Among all the planets of our solar system, Earth turned out to be the lucky one, as water covers approximately 71% of its surface. Water is a key ingredient for life on Earth. It also influences the weather and climate dynamics of the planet. The vast majority of water remains way beyond the human eyes, thus making it hard to survey.
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Towards this, NASA recently launched a brand new satellite dedicated to closely monitoring this Earth’s most precious natural resource. Thanks to this new satellite, scientists can gain a better understanding of global hydrology science like never before. The $1.2 billion satellite will track the extent and movement of water around the world at unprecedented scales.
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The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite will scan more than 90% of the Earth’s surface for water, and will measure the depth of water in oceans and freshwater bodies. SWOT will travel across the entire Earth’s surface at least once every 21 days, according to NASA. On a daily basis, approximately one terabyte of unprocessed data would be generated and sent back to Earth. It has been outfitted with the Ka-band Radar Interferometer, or KaRIn, which makes the satellite unique. The radar can record information in much greater detail than sensors placed at sea level can.
It will provide in-depth data on the global lakes measuring over 15 acres (62,500 square meters) and rivers stretching up to 330 feet (100 meters) across. As per Nature, out of six million lakes and reservoirs, the data is only available for just 10,000 to 20,000. The newly launched satellite will allow scientists to even track smaller water bodies, which otherwise are hard to observe from space.
One of the satellite’s primary applications is to estimate the impact of global warming on oceans, lakes, rivers and reservoirs. Not just this, SWOT has been designed to collect high-resolution data on swirling eddies, ocean currents and tides.
“Warming seas, extreme weather, more severe wildfires — these are only some of the consequences humanity is facing due to climate change,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a press release. “The climate crisis requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, and SWOT is the realization of a long-standing international partnership that will ultimately better equip communities so that they can face these challenges.”
SWOT analysis will also provide valuable insights into tracking sea level rise for coastal safety. This satellite would be especially useful in areas lacking tide gauges and other measuring instruments for recording sea surface height. SWOT observation will aid in better flood and drought forecasting and mitigation efforts.
Furthermore, researchers and policymakers can develop better policies and solutions for people’s safety in a warming world. It will also assist local communities to be more prepared for water-related events, such as floods. Recent floods are clear evidence that climate change is likely to exacerbate the situation of water-related weather extremes in the coming years.
The satellite is jointly developed by NASA and the French space agency Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), along with Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the U.K. Space Agency.
Lead image via NASA