Weather forecasts start using space laser data

Europe’s novel wind-measuring satellite, Aeolus, has reached a key milestone in its mission.

The space laser’s data is now being used in operational weather forecasts.

Aeolus monitors the wind by firing an ultraviolet beam down into the atmosphere and catching the light’s reflection as it scatters off molecules and particles carried along in the air.

The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts says the information is now robust enough for routine use.

The Reading, UK-based organisation is ingesting the data into its numerical models that look from one to several days ahead.

Forecast improvements are most apparent for the tropics and the Southern Hemisphere.

Meteorologists are constantly trying to increase their skill level; they want to see a certain performance being achieved further and further into the future.

And on one important measure – the eight-day look-ahead – the ECMWF says the Aeolus data enables conditions in the Southern Hemisphere to be forecast with the same level of accuracy an additional 3.7 hours into the future.

“This is just one experimental instrument but it suggests that if you had many more of them in space you would have an even greater impact,” the centre’s Dr Michael Rennie commented.

“Aeolus shows us there is a lot of promise from this type of direct wind measurement,” he told BBC News.