2022: First-ever NASA surface water ocean topography survey

State governments to benefit from federal earth science data

When top NASA administrators visited Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on October 14, a roundtable discussion was convened to advance collaboration on climate change with local scientists and state governments.

The announced next generation of water-measuring spacecraft will enable scientists to measure freshwater body heights and freshwater flows for the first time. In addition laser-imaging spectrometers will help study snowmelt and snow volume.

In 2022 NASA will launch its first global survey of Earth’s surface water. Every 21 days surface water and ocean topography (SWOT) tools will survey almost 600,000 miles (956,606 km) of global rivers at least twice. Data collected is intended to aid drought and flood forecasting efforts as geoscience data becomes more accessible.

illustration of the future surface water ocean topography SWOT satellite measuring waterbody height regardless of cloud cover. image credit: CNESIllustration of the SWOT satellite measuring waterbody height regardless of cloud cover: Off-nadir radar interferometers will simultaneously gather data over two 60-km-wide swaths; a conventional nadir altimeter will scan the area in between. Image credit: French space agency Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES)

Many earth observing system projects have been in development for years, but a recent memorandum of understanding between California and JPL has helped to initiate critical water resiliency projects. The most populous state won’t be the only beneficiary from earth observation missions.

Western states and provinces have suffered from record-setting fires, drought, and temperatures. Earth Science findings will inform decision-makers and determine feasible plans toward climate resilience.

The meeting marks progress for state and federal collaboration since December, 2016 when then Governor Jerry Brown addressed the American Geophysical Union (AGU), explicitly putting forward the idea of California launching its own satellite “to figure out where the pollution is and how to end it.”