Climate Change, Nature, Science

Satellite Provides Unbroken Climate Data Going Back to 1977

Thanks to a satellite, we have climate data going back to 1977.
Photo: Shutterstock

Satellites are important in helping scientists understand how the global climate has changed over the last four decades. Thanks to serendipity and a bit of investigation, we now have almost unbroken satellite climate information dating back to late 1977.

We had most of it, but were missing a two-year portion of data which was recently recovered, allowing us to look at information dating back to a period when human action wasn’t doing as much damage as it is now.

That data was extracted from the old nine-track tapes that recorded computerized satellite information in the late 1970s. That data then had to be decoded into a format readable by modern computers. Thanks to the work of a systems engineer and Dr. David Santek, who originally captured the data, that decoding was completed this summer.

The year 1977 might not seem like that long ago, but the world has changed dramatically since then. Not only have we realized that our actions were harming the planet in serious ways, but we’ve been able to see those effects increase and worsen.

Recovering the data, recorded by the Meteostat-1, which orbited along the equator, allows us to see just how much has changed since then. What’s more, we can apply newer, much more informed methodologies to this data, so that we can learn a lot more now than we could have done then.

This is especially impressive as the satellite was originally launched to help forecast weather. The team that launched it likely didn’t think it would help contribute to efforts to hold off and reverse climate change.

Long-term climate data like this is important to understanding just how much the planet is changing, and the more of it we have, the better. We have routine recordings of temperatures, barometric pressure, and other weather measurements dating back to the late 19th century. We can get a lot of information from studying layers of soil and mud, or the rings of trees, which can help give us a broader view. But all of these things have to be taken together, and they don’t provide the kind of detailed information that the Meteostat-1 data can give us.

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