SWOT Satellite Gives Us Insanely Detailed Map Of Global Sea Levels

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The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite measures the height of almost all the water on the Earth’s surface. The satellite completed its first full science orbit of 21 days between July 26 and August 16, and NASA has released a visualization of its findings.

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

“The detail that SWOT returns 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 impacts 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 reflecting radar pulses off the water surface and receiving the return signal with two antennas on either side of a 10-meter boom. As a result, SWOT will be able to collect data on water bodies that is much more detailed than previously available. “For freshwater, this will be a major leap forward in terms of our knowledge,” said Daniel Esteban-Fernandez, KaRIn instrument manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

Launched December 16, 2022 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in central California. SWOT was developed jointly by NASA and Center 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 aims to observe the fine details of the ocean’s surface topography and measure how water bodies change over time. The mission is now in its operational phase and will collect data for approximately three years.

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