Barnard-Seyfert Astronomical Society

The Big Picture: GOES-R and the Advanced Baseline Imager

By Kieran Mulvaney

The ability to watch the development of storm systems – ideally in real time, or as close as possible – has been an invaluable benefit of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) system, now entering its fortieth year in service. But it has sometimes come with a trade-off: when the equipment on the satellite is focused on such storms, it isn’t always able to monitor weather elsewhere.

The Advanced Baseline Imager. Credit: NOAA/NASA.. Download photo here.

“Right now, we have this kind of conflict,” explains Tim Schmit of NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS). “Should we look at the broad scale, or look at the storm scale?” That should change with the upcoming launch of the first of the latest generation of GOES satellites, dubbed the GOES-R series, which will carry aloft a piece of equipment called the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI).

According to Schmit, who has been working on its development since 1999, the ABI will provide images more frequently, at greater resolution and across more spectral bands (16, compared to five on existing GOES satellites). Perhaps most excitingly, it will also allow simultaneous scanning of both the broader view and not one but two concurrent storm systems or other small-scale patterns, such as wildfires, over areas of 1000km x 1000km.

Although the spatial resolution will not be any greater in the smaller areas than in the wider field of view, the significantly greater temporal resolution on the smaller scale (providing one image a minute) will allow meteorologists to see weather events unfold almost as if they were watching a movie.

So, for example, the ABI could be pointed at an area of Oklahoma where conditions seem primed for the formation of tornadoes. “And now you start getting one-minute data, so you can see small-scale clouds form, the convergence and growth,” says Schmit.

In August, Schmit and colleagues enjoyed a brief taste of how that might look when they turned on the GOES-14 satellite, which serves as an orbiting backup for the existing generation of satellites.

“We were allowed to do some experimental imaging with this one-minute imagery,” Schmit explains. “So we were able to simulate the temporal component of what we will get with ABI when it’s launched.”

The result was some imagery of cloud formation that, while not of the same resolution as the upcoming ABI images, unfolded on the same time scale. You can compare the difference between it and the existing GOES-13 imagery here:

Learn more about the GOES-R series of satellites here: http://www.goes-r.gov.