A NASA satellite launch is scheduled to take place today, but this isn’t any old project. The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite will track the vast majority of water on Earth for the first time. It will measure the depth of oceans, rivers and lakes to help scientists track how they change over time. SWOT will help scientists better understand how oceans absorb carbon and atmospheric heat, which can help to moderate climate change and global temperature changes.
Observations from SWOT should help to improve flood forecasts while bolstering models that are used to monitor droughts and predict rising sea levels. On top of that, the data that the satellite records will include details about ocean tides, currents and storm surges, as well as river water level measurements.
The satellite will use a radar-based system to survey water levels. The Ka-band Radar Interferometer (Karin) bounces signals off of two antennas on either side of SWOT. This, NASA said, will allow for a much larger view of Earth’s surface with high resolution and accuracy. SWOT should be able to measure large tracks of water across the planet in a relatively short period of time.
Scientists will be able to observe ocean features at 10 times the resolution of current tech. SWOT will be able to monitor almost every river that’s wider than 330 feet (100 meters) and north of a million lakes that are larger than 15 acres (62,500 square meters). All told, the satellite will survey water on 90 percent of the planet’s surface.
NASA jointly developed SWOT with French space agency Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales. They had help from the Canadian Space Agency and the UK Space Agency.
SWOT is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Liftoff is targeted for 6:46AM ET and NASA’s launch coverage will get underway at 6AM. You can watch the livestream below: