NASA and the French space agency CNES plan to launch a satellite with the Ka-band sensor in late 2022 as part of a joint mission called Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) with the help of the Canadian and British space agencies. Along with the oceans, the SUV-sized satellite will observe the planet’s lakes, rivers and reservoirs throughout its 21-day repetitive orbit.
“We will have access to global information about surface water in a way that we have never had before,” says Cédric David, hydrologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Scientists will be able to observe changes in the amount of water stored on the earth’s surface and estimate how much water flows through river systems.
Researchers like Kitambo say that SWOT’s observations will increase the accuracy and quality of their numerical models, which simulate and predict how water swells, drains, and flows over time. In particular, scientists can use SWOT data to calculate the daily runoff – or the amount of water flowing through canals – from the main tributaries of the Congo and within the rainforest at the center of the basin. This will help them understand the evolution of seasonal flooding, which affects everything from fishing and agriculture to wildlife habitats and human security.
David notes that the new mission, along with other similar NASA projects, will target nearly every part of the Earth’s water cycle, including the oceans, soil moisture, groundwater, ice sheets, and now surface water. “Many of us call this the golden age of water cycle observations from space,” he says.
Maria Gallucci is an energy and environmental reporter from Brooklyn, New York.