Update 17 October: The meeting last Tuesday gives little hope. There will definitely be no data for weeks. I don't know what prevents a conclusion of never.
AMSR-E has failed and is probably permanently out of commission. For most of you, that's merely news. Perhaps a source of amusement and interest is now gone. For me, since I use(d) it in my day job, AMSR-E failing means some real work. Most of that work was already planned, but now it needs to be done more speedily.
As I've often said here, and even more often in 3d, data are messy and ugly. One sort of ugliness is that instruments do not last forever. When (not if) they fail, you have to turn to a different instrument. Ideally, you already have the replacement in hand and have been running it regularly and intercomparing its results with your current main system and ensured that there are no differences other than those you wanted -- like better resolution on the new instrument. The present situation is not ideal, so, as we usually do in science, I'm making the best of it that I can. And making notes for what to do when I have a chance to rework the immediate fixes.
Step 1 was to bring back in to service an (even) older satellite data source that I used to use. I stopped using it because it was hearing voices, which degraded the quality of the work I did. On the other hand, using it is far better than having no data at all. This is in hand, and will be officially operational tomorrow.
Step 2 is to develop a 'voice filter' for the data, to get around that problem. Fingers crossed, tests today look promising.
Step 3 is to bring a new instrument in to use. It's newer than AMSRE, but not as high resolution. Plus there are some issues with biases as compared to the older record. To bring it on line, these need to be reduced (possibly substantially), or, if we're very unlucky, characterized and my downstream users warned of the change (they already know about what's happening tomorrow, at least the immediately-to-hand folks).
AMSR-E did a good job. Its designed life span was 5 years (maybe 6), and it gave data for about 9.5. The real problem, for me at work, was not AMSR-E, but the fact that no successor was launched in that 9.5 years. A launch of AMSR-2 is currently (last I heard from my spies) planned for February 2012, and the spies report that there's discussion of maybe moving up the launch date. Fingers crossed. On the other hand, for my work, even a launch tomorrow doesn't save me from steps 2 and 3 above and the work involved. It takes time for a satellite to reach its working orbit, to be brought up to operational status for collecting data, for the data flow system on earth to start passing out the data to some locations, and some more for the data to come down to me in a form that I can use. These are a matter of months (optimistically) to years (pessimistically). So, again, cross your fingers. If we're lucky, by this time next year, we'll have AMSR-2 in my work's operations.
Irrespective of my working life, the gap between AMSR-E and AMSR-2 just by its existence degrades the quality of the climate data record. It makes impossible the direct inter-comparison and inter-calibration between the two instruments. A few years down the road, we're looking at a larger scale example of that, as the next set of polar-orbiting satellites (JPSS is the acronym there, now, used to be NPOESS) was delayed by the 2011 budget, and looks likely to be delayed in the 2012 budget as well.
Bottom line message:
It'll probably be a bit before I'm back to writing normally, including how my sea ice outlooks did (pretty well, actually; the high and low, I thought were high and low (5.0 and 4.4 vs. the observed 4.6), and the two model predictions were 4.8 and 4.6, vs. the observed 4.6).
If people are really interested in the gruesome details of what I'm doing at work, that I can keep writing about. Any takers? (bwah hah hah!)
2 hours ago