SWOT Satellite Launched To Monitor Global Waterways
To help the world measure and monitor changes in wetlands, rivers, reservoirs, lakes and oceans so as to better understand climate change, a new international Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite has just been launched into space.
Having taken off from Vandenberg in California on December 16th, the satellite will use a radar instrument to survey at least 90 per cent of the surface of the earth to help drive deeper understanding of the climate emergency, as well as predicting and mitigating flood risks.
The satellite was jointly developed by NASA and the French space agency CNES, with the UK Space Agency providing £12.2 million to tech firm Honeywell to develop the radar’s Ka Band duplexer, which routes essential radar signals around the satellite at hitherto unseen frequencies.
Scientists in the UK are also working to assess and exploit incoming SWOT data over areas with fast currents and very high tidal ranges. Along with the Natural Environment Research Council, the UK Space Agency will be investing £375,000 in the research project, focusing on data covering the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary.
The UK arm of the project is being led by the National Oceanography Centre, with the region due to be observed once a day over three months between April and June 2023 to provide information on water level changes in this dynamic coastal environment.
UK Space Agency chief executive Dr Paul Bate said: “SWOT will revolutionise our understanding of our planet’s surface water and how its patterns are changing, giving us vital information to improve how we manage one of humanity’s most precious resources.
“This is an important mission for the UK to be involved in, both in terms of building the radar instrument and in directly receiving and analysing Earth observation data for the UK.”
As NASA explains, there are many benefits to the SWOT mission but one of the main ones is that it will provide a much clearer picture of freshwater bodies around the world. At the moment, researchers only have reliable measurements of a few thousand lakes globally, but this new satellite will provide data on millions.
Coastally, the satellite will provide data on sea level to fill in observational gaps in places without tide gauges or other monitoring devices that measure sea surface height. Over time, this information can be used to track rises in sea level more effectively, having a direct impact on local communities and coastal ecosystems.
Data can also be used to help researchers, resource managers and policymakers assess and plan for events like floods and drought. Flood projections, for example, can be improved for rivers if more information is available regarding where the water is, where it’s come from and where it’s going.