The international Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on 16 December.
SWOT will use a revolutionary radar instrument, named KaRIn, to survey at least 90% of the Earth’s surface, measuring and monitoring changes in the ocean, lakes, reservoirs, rivers and wetlands, to produce data that will help improve our understanding of climate change, as well as predict and mediate flood risks around the world.
The project is a multi-agency venture which sees the UK Space Agency working with NASA, the French Space Agency (CNES) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) on the mission. The mission, brings together the best of Brotosh science. UK tech company Honeywell have been brought in to provide unique technology to route vital radar signals around the satellite.
The UK Space Agency has also partnered with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in the SWOT-UK science research project, to analyse SWOT data covering the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary area.
Bangor University is partnering with the University of Bristol under SWOT-UK, (led by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC)) to evaluate the SWOT data over British waters when it is returned over the next months. The Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary make up the only estuary with a tidal range larger than four metres to be monitored by SWOT during its mission, recording observations once a day for three months.
Bangor University led the deployment of sensors, called acoustic Doppler current profilers (ADCP), to measure tidal flows in the Bristol Channel, and the RiverRay instrument, which will take similar measurements in the River Severn by travelling across the channel on a small boat.
Simon Neill, Professor in Physical Oceanography at Bangor University, said:
“The ADCP is a device that uses sound waves to measure the speed and direction of currents throughout the water column, providing an understanding of how waters in rivers and oceans move.
“The data collected from these devices will enable us to develop a full understanding of the Bristol Channel and to directly compare with the data collected by SWOT.”
Science Minister George Freeman said:
“It’s fantastic to see industrial and academic institutions from across the UK collaborate on a global mission that will mark a step-change in how we can monitor and respond to water patterns.
“The UK government has just committed £314 million to participate in European Earth observation missions, giving us access to crucial data about our natural world and how we can tackle climate change.
“Our space sector thrives on building relationships with our international counterparts and SWOT sees the UK at the heart of this mission with our friends in the US, France and NASA on this mission.”
UK Space Agency CEO Dr Paul Bate said:
“SWOT will revolutionise our understanding of our planet’s surface water and how its patterns are changing, giving us vital information to improve how we manage one of humanity’s most precious resources.
“This is an important mission for the UK to be involved in, both in terms of building the radar instrument and in directly receiving and analysing Earth observation data for the UK.
“I look forward to seeing the data that the satellite returns on the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary.”
Professor Christine Gommenginger is a principal scientist in satellite oceanography at NOC and a co-leader of SWOT-UK.
Prof. Christine Gommenginger said:
“For the first time, SWOT will produce detailed images of water levels that will help understand the complex processes that connect water levels over the ocean and inland waters.
“One objective of SWOT-UK is to demonstrate how satellite Earth Observation data can be used with in situ instruments and numerical models to answer important questions for science and society.”
Paul Bates CBE FRS, Professor of Hydrology at the University of Bristol, was part of the team that originally pitched the SWOT concept to NASA 20 years ago, and his team contributed flood hydraulic models during the mission design phase.
Prof. Paul Bates said:
“SWOT will transform our ability to track freshwater on planet Earth and currents in the ocean. For the first time we will be able to track flood waves moving down river systems and see the rise and fall of water levels in millions of lakes and wetlands worldwide.
“We will not only be able to use these data to make new scientific discoveries, but also to help populations worldwide better manage water hazards and resources.”
When data is returned in 2023, the Plymouth Marine Laboratory will work with the Ocean University of China to identify and track eddies, looking specifically at how the Mid Atlantic Ridge impacts their progression across the South Atlantic and how this affects the north-south transport of heat by the ocean.
Built in the UK, Honeywell’s Ka Band duplexer is a vital part of the KaRIn altimeter on the SWOT satellite, routing radar signals around the satellite and transmitting at a power of 1,500W – a level never seen in this kind of device – allowing KaRIn to measure to better than 2 cm height accuracy at a spatial resolution of 1 km from an orbit height of 891 km above the Earth.
The UK recently committed £315 million to future Earth observation and climate missions and programmes, including TRUTHS and Aeolus-2, through the European Space Agency, and a further £65 million to national programmes that will strengthen skills and capabilities in this important area.