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Authors: John Le Marshall, CAWCR Bureau of Meteorology


Earth observations from space (EOS) are the most important and valuable source of environmental information for Australia. Their benefit to the nation amounts to billions of dollars. They are the basis of a wide range of essential services. In the case of meteorology, satellites have now been providing benefits to the community for 50 years.

The first weather satellite, TIROS 1, was launched on April 1, 1960 and enabled the use of observations from the satellite to determine atmospheric and the surface state. Visible and infrared imagery became increasingly available from the early TIROS and NIMBUS series of satellites, with TIROS 8 introducing Automatic Picture Transmission capability, facilitating the use of direct readout imagery around the globe. Here, we summarise the development of the use of weather satellites, with particular attention paid to the Australian Region. We summarise the development of ultraviolet, visible, infrared and microwave instruments and their use for specifying atmospheric and surface state. We note the key active and passive observational technologies now used to determine environmental, atmospheric and surface state and the benefits they have led to in terms of predicting atmospheric, surface and climate state. The improving spatial (smaller fields of view), temporal (increasing frequency of observation) and spectral (increased spectral coverage/resolution) resolution, combined with enhanced data assimilation methods such as 4 D variational assimilation and the availability of burgeoning computer power, have led to improved characterization of atmospheric and surface state and improved accuracy of environmental, atmospheric and climate prediction. We also record key advances anticipated during the next decade and indicate their importance for Earth System Modelling, in particular in relation to environmental and climate analysis and prediction.

Overall it is clear Australia has an increasing dependence on EOS data for environmental applications and extensive use of EOS information will be essential for addressing important national challenges in climate change, water, natural disaster mitigation, transport, energy, agriculture, forestry, ecosystems, coasts, oceans and national security.