The Inertia

The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite is measuring the height of nearly all water on Earth’s surface. The satellite completed its first full 21-day science orbit between July 26 and August 16, and NASA has released a visual map of its findings.

The animation above depicts sea surface height anomalies measured by SWOT. Red and orange indicate ocean heights that were higher than the global mean sea surface height, while blue represents heights lower than the mean. These differences in sea level can be used to map phenomena such as ocean currents and ocean warming.

“The detail that SWOT is sending back on sea levels around the world is incredible,” said Parag Vaze, SWOT project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “The data will advance research into the effects of climate change and help communities around the world better prepare for a warming world.”

The data was collected using the Ka-band Radar Interferometer (KaRIn) instrument. The device works by bouncing radar pulses off the water’s surface and receiving the return signal with two antennas at either end of a 33-foot boom. As a result, SWOT will be able to collect data on bodies of water that is much more detailed than previously available. “For freshwater, this will be a quantum leap in terms of our knowledge,” said Daniel Esteban-Fernandez, KaRIn instrument manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

Launched on Dec. 16, 2022, from Vandenberg Space Force Base in central California. SWOT was jointly developed by NASA and Centre National D’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) with contributions from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the United Kingdom Space Agency. The mission is the first global survey of Earth’s surface water and has a goal of observing the fine details of the ocean’s surface topography and measuring how water bodies change over time. The mission is now in the operations phase, during which it will collect data for approximately three years.


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