NASA to Monitor Global Water Systems with SWOT

by | Dec 16, 2022 | News Articles, Product, Space Exploration

NASA’s latest SWOT satellite mission will facilitate the comprehensive study of the world’s oceans, lakes and rivers for the first time.

NASA’s latest and advanced radar satellite, SWOT (Surface Water and Ocean Topography), will provide researchers unprecedented insights into the workings of our planet’s water systems, including oceans, lakes, rivers, coastal regions and freshwater bodies. The satellite’s state-of-the-art design comprises advanced microwave radar technology that scientists claim will measure height-surface data of over 90% of global water bodies in high-definition. This survey from space by SWOT will enlighten us on not just the mechanism behind climate change, but the consequences of it as well. 

A project that took almost 20 years to come to fruition, SWOT is an international satellite developed by NASA with contributions from France, Canada and Britain. The satellite has been scheduled to take off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on 16 December 2022, on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. 

SWOT, an advanced radar satellite designed to give scientists unprecedented insights into water bodies on earth. (Source: Reuters)

In navigating the effects of climate change, it has become pivotal for researchers to study and understand the mechanics of our planet, including the global movement of water. This vital information plays a crucial role in dealing with climate-related weather events, such as floods and droughts. The observations will allow us to monitor and predict major natural events, and take precautionary measures where necessary. As the satellite scans over 90% of the planet’s surface at least once every 21 days, we will also be well equipped with data on oceanography and hydrology.

Tamlin Pavelsky, SWOT hydrology science lead at the University of North Carolina, stated that, “Right now with satellite imagery, we can see pretty well where rivers and lakes are located. We can see their area pretty well. But we don’t do nearly so well in terms of our ability to see the height of the water in them.” However, with SWOT’s aid, researchers will be able to measure the volume of water bodies and study the dynamic nature of water systems on Earth. Pavelsky adds, “We’ll be able to see how the volume of lakes and reservoirs increases and decreases over time. And for rivers, we’ll be able to track the volume of water flowing through rivers from space.” 

Artist rendition of SWOT (Source: NASA)

SWOT has been built solely for the purpose of measuring water height in intricate detail. The satellite’s “radar interferometry” technology will be using Ka-band frequency of the microwave spectrum to penetrate cloud cover and darkness over wide areas of the Earth while furnishing scientists with data to map their observations in two dimensions. This new technology is notably different from having to rely on satellites that can only track measurements along a one-dimensional line, and scientists will have to estimate and fill in data gaps.

For the longest time, environmental scientists had to depend on other, non-environmental satellites to gather information. But now, SWOT’s three-year mission will consistently provide scientists with data needed to take inventory on our planet’s water resources.