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5 Things to Know About SWOT Satellite

Updated: Aug 3

The Surface Water & Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite is scheduled to be sent into Earth orbit by NASA on December 12 using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. The launch will take place at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The mission is a partnership between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Center National d'Études Spatiales (CNES), the French space agency. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA) are also contributing to the mission to survey water on more than 90% of the planet's surface.

The height of the water throughout Earth's freshwater bodies, as well as the ocean, will be measured by the satellite. This will provide insights into how the ocean affects climate change; how a warmer planet affects lakes, rivers, & reservoirs; as well as how communities may better prepare for disasters like floods.

Members of the international SWOT radar satellite mission test one of the antennas.

Members of the international SWOT radar satellite mission test one of the antennas. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

1. For the first time, SWOT will survey almost all the water that covers the surface of the earth.

On our planet, life cannot exist without the presence of water. However, it also plays an essential part in storing and transporting a significant portion of the extra heat and carbon trapped in the atmosphere of the Earth as a result of emissions of greenhouse gases. It also affects the weather and environment of our region.

Researchers will be able to follow the Earth's water reservoirs with the assistance of SWOT, which will tell them where the water is now, where it is coming from, and where it is likely to be tomorrow. This is essential information for comprehending the transformations in water resources, the effects those transformations will have on the ecosystems of specific areas, and how the ocean responds to and impacts climate change.

Workers load the SWOT satellite into a container in preparation for shipping.

Workers load the SWOT satellite into a container in preparation for shipping. (Image credit: CNES/Thales Alenia Space)

2. The SWOT satellite will acquire an unprecedented level of information on the water on Earth.

The research equipment on board the spacecraft will provide a view of the planet's ocean & freshwater bodies with unparalleled clarity. SWOT will be able to gather data on ocean features that are smaller than 100 kilometers (60 miles) wide, which will assist researchers in gaining a better understanding of the ocean's role in climate change.

More than 90% of the additional heat that was trapped in the atmosphere as a result of greenhouse gas emissions created by humans has been absorbed by the oceans of the Earth. Researchers believe that temporary ocean structures like fronts and eddies absorb a significant portion of the heat and the additional carbon it creates.

The SWOT analysis will assist in the generation of a far more comprehensive picture of the water budget for the Earth by offering a high-definition image of freshwater bodies. Researchers need to outfit more of the world's largest rivers with monitoring equipment due to various factors, including the rivers' inaccessibility.

As a result, many rivers continue to be not explored. The equipment on the spacecraft will survey rivers wider than 330 feet (100 meters) for the first time in three dimensions, and they will study the whole length of virtually all of those rivers. Similarly, although the current ground and satellite technologies only give information on a few thousand of the world's biggest lakes, SWOT will increase that number to more than a million lakes, more significant than 15 acres (62,500 square meters).

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3. The satellite will investigate some of the most critical concerns about climate change that we have at this moment

Determining the point at which the ocean begins to slow down its absorption of excess heat that has been trapped in the atmosphere as well as starts releasing it back into the air, where it could accelerate the process of global warming, is an essential component of predicting the future climate of our planet.

Researchers can verify and enhance their climate projections with the help of SWOT since it will give essential information about the worldwide ocean-atmosphere heat exchange. In addition, the satellite will assist researchers in completing their image of how the sea level is shifting along coasts. It will provide insights that can be used to enhance computer models for sea level rise forecasts as well as predicting coastal floods.

4. We'll employ SWOT analysis to guide day-to-day choices.

Earth's water cycle is speeding up due to climate change, causing more severe weather events like floods and droughts. As a result, floods will hit certain areas while others suffer from deficiencies. Water management agencies, disaster preparation organizations, civil engineers, universities, and anyone that need to track water in their local locations would benefit significantly from the SWOT data that will be used to monitor drought conditions in lakes and enhance flood predictions for rivers.

The SWOT mission will study Earth’s water and study how bodies of water change over time.

The SWOT mission will study Earth’s water and study how bodies of water change over time. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

5. For the future NASA Earth missions, as well as strengthening a long-standing international relationship, this mission is a big deal.

SWOT is paving the way for future Earth-observing missions with its cutting-edge technology and dedication to include a broad range of individuals who will benefit from the mission's findings. There won't be any cost associated with using SWOT's metrics, and academics will have easy access to the tools that will help them analyze the data. A broad variety of people, including those who wouldn't usually have access, will be encouraged to engage in research and applications.

A partnership between NASA and CNES began in the 1980s to monitor Earth's ocean, making this enormous project feasible. With the TOPEX/Poseidon satellite launch in 1992, this collaboration was the first to utilize an altimeter in space to investigate sea level. After 30 years of partnership, NASA and CNES have branched out to include the Canadian Space Agency and the United Kingdom's Space Agency on the Space Weather Observation and Prediction (SWOT) satellite, and the European Space Agency, the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, and the European Commission on the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite.

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