The SWOT space mission, a collaboration between NASA and the French space agency Center National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), with contributions from the Canadian Space Agency and the British Space Agency, is scheduled to launch in November from the Vandenberg Space Force base in California.
Engineers and technicians complete work on the satellite in a facility managed by Thales Alenia Space in Cannes, France. SWOT has several key tasks, including measuring the height of water masses on the Earth’s surface. Above the ocean, the satellite will be able to “see” features such as whirlpools less than 100 kilometers wide, smaller than previous satellites at sea level could observe. SWOT will also measure over 95% of Earth’s lakes over six hectares and rivers over 100 meters wide.
Water is life, but despite its importance, humanity has a surprisingly limited view of Earth’s freshwater bodies. Researchers have reliable water level measurements for only a few thousand lakes around the world and little or no information on some of the planet’s major river systems.
The upcoming Survey of Surface Waters and Oceans (SWOT) satellite will fill this huge gap. By helping to better understand the Earth’s water cycle, it will help to better manage water resources and better understand how climate change is affecting lakes, rivers and reservoirs.
“Current databases may contain information on a few thousand lakes around the world,” said Tamlin Pavelsky, NASA freshwater science lead for SWOT, based at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. . . “FODA will bring that number to between two and six million.”
In addition to measuring the height of water, whether in a lake, river or reservoir, the SWOT will also measure its extent or area. This crucial information will allow scientists to calculate how much water is moving through freshwater bodies. “Once you get the water volume, you can better assess the water balance, or the amount of water flowing in and out of an area,” said Lee-Lueng Fu, SWOT project scientist at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. from NASA in Southern California. who manages the American part of the mission.
This is important because Climate change is accelerating the Earth’s water cycle. Warmer temperatures mean that the atmosphere can hold more water (in the form of water vapour), which can lead to, for example, stronger rainstorms than those normally seen in an area. This, in turn, can wreak havoc on farms and damage crops. These accelerated changes can complicate the management of a community’s water resources.
“As the Earth’s water cycle intensifies, predicting future extreme events such as floods and droughts requires monitoring both changes in ocean water supply and demand and the use of water on earth. SWOT’s global look at all surface water on Earth will give us exactly that,” said Nadya Vinogradova Shiffer, SWOT program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.