UH launches satellite tracking facility

Technology brings better weather data for Hawaii

Published  3:56 PM HST Sep 09, 2012
UH weather satellite
HONOLULU -

We are halfway through hurricane season, and just in time, the University of Hawaii has started up a new satellite communication facility.

The satellite antenna and dish sit on the roof of building 7 on the campus of Honolulu Community College.

At least 12 times a day it’s tracking one of six satellites orbiting the earth.

That means better and more accurate information on the sky and ocean around us.

This satellite information is critical for our islands which are isolated by water.

"Like balloons that are launched from land and surface stations, they’re plentiful on the mainland and there’s a lot more data there, a lot more radars. Out on the open ocean, we have very little data, so satellites are what we have to rely upon," said Steven Businger, meteorology professor at the UH Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

Those weather loops seen on the news are made available by geostationary satellites 25,000 miles away and the Hawaii Forecast Office can only update that data every six hours.

This new system allows real-time downloading of ocean and cloud temperature and imagery from polar orbiting satellites. It can also detect volcanic emissions.

Plus the high resolution images are giving forecasters a better look at the storms, even at night.

"With just a little bit of moonlight, it allows the forecasters to see details of the thunderstorms and the showers in the trade winds," said Businger.

There's a little more than two months left in this year's hurricane season and forecasters are glad to have the most up-to-date information available at hand.

"Let’s say one of the geostationary satellites fails, which does happen. Then these polar orbiting satellites allow us an eye in the sky to keep viewing the weather," said Businger.

The cost for the new system is about $160,000. UH paid for half of it, but the information is being shared with the National Weather Service, Honolulu Forecast Office, the University of Wisconsin and Honolulu Community College.

The Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory at UH is another program that may benefit from the new satellite facility.

UH is getting ready to launch its own satellites and the new facility may be used to track them.

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