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'Ferrari of Space' Gives Ocean Current Maps a Boost

Nov 26, 2014 02:54 PM EST

A satellite dubbed the "Ferrari of space" is giving ocean current maps a boost. By providing the most accurate model of ocean circulation yet, the technology can help scientists better understand Earth's oceans and their role in global warming, according to recent research.

The European Space Agency's (ESA) Gravity and Ocean Circulation Explorer, or GOCE, satellite, may have burned up in Earth's lower atmosphere at the end of its nearly five-year mission in November 2013, but it is still providing useful data to scientists.

It is this treasure trove of data that has helped scientists map "variations in Earth's gravity with unrivalled precision," the ESA said in a news release, resulting in the most accurate shape of the "geoid" - a hypothetical global ocean at rest.

The oceans transport about 30 percent of the Earth's heat, Discovery News reports, bringing it from low to high latitudes in surface waters. This circulation of ocean waters plays a vital role in global climate, and painting an accurate picture of this process has important implications. (Scroll to read on...)

"In particular, the assimilation of this information into operational ocean monitoring and forecasting systems will provide highly valuable new insight into the present and future state of the ocean," added Marie-Hélène Rio from Italy's Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate.

To achieve this, the GOCE geoid was subtracted from the mean sea-surface height measured over a 20-year period by satellites. From there, the research team calculated ocean currents and their speeds using drifting buoys.

The satellite, nicknamed the "Ferrari of space" for its sleek shape, which provides stability, allows scientists to better understand the planet's climate and possibly determine its effects in the future. And with global warming projected to cause a rise in sea levels in the future, having a new baseline thanks to the new map could be crucial.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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