Ever since the first satellites started imaging the Earth, scientists have been using the data gathered to learn more about our planet and improve the lives of its inhabitants. From weather forecasting to improving crop yields, satellites have been put to work in a wide array of tasks. The data they gather can go beyond imaging as well. A new Chinese satellite known as Fengyun-3E is using some novel approaches to monitor Antarctic sea ice in order to help scientists better understand the changing climate at the poles.
While it is equipped with a number of other sensors, one of the more intriguing is a piece of equipment called WindRad which uses radar to measure wind at various locations and altitudes based on how the radar waves bounce off of the atmosphere at various places. Scientists have also been able to use this sensor to monitor sea ice, and can use the data gathered to distinguish new sea ice from ice which is many years old, allowing them to better understand ice formation and loss at the poles. It’s also the first weather satellite to be placed in an early morning orbit, allowing it to use the long shadows cast by the sun on objects on Earth’s surface to gather more information than a satellite in other orbits might be able to.