International Satellite to Track Impacts of Small Ocean Currents

by | May 11, 2022 | Climate Change

In Brief:

The Surface Water and Ocean Topography mission will explore how the ocean absorbs atmospheric heat and carbon, moderating global temperatures and climate change.

Though climate change is driving sea level rise over time, researchers also believe that differences in surface height from place to place in the ocean can affect Earth’s climate. These highs and lows are associated with currents and eddies, swirling rivers in the ocean, that influence how it absorbs atmospheric heat and carbon.

Enter the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission, a joint effort of NASA and French space agency Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), with contributions from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the United Kingdom Space Agency. Launching in November 2022, SWOT will collect data on ocean heights to study currents and eddies up to five times smaller than have been previously detectable. It will also gather detailed information on freshwater lakes and rivers.

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The SWOT mission will collect information on sea level height, which will help scientists study the role of currents in moderating climate change, as well as the elevations of bodies of fresh water. The mission is jointly led by NASA and CNES, with contributions from the UKSA and CSA. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/CNES/Thales Alenia Space

Observing the ocean at relatively small scales will help scientists assess its role in moderating climate change. The planet’s largest storehouse of atmospheric heat and carbon, the ocean has absorbed more than 90% of the heat trapped by human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Much of the continued uptake of that heat – and the excess carbon dioxide and methane that produced it – is thought to occur ar …

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