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The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission

An international mission

The SWOT mission, scheduled to launch in , will provide us with new and detailed information on one of the most important resources we share – water.

Led by NASA and France’s space agency (CNES), SWOT will survey 90% of Earth's surface water; observe the fine details of the ocean's surface topography; and measure how lakes, rivers, reservoirs and oceans are changing over time.

By using innovative technology, SWOT will measure ocean features at spatial scales up to 10 times smaller than previous technologies can. These precise measurements will provide the scientific community with a better understanding of the dynamics of the world's oceans and terrestrial surface water, allowing them to address important global issues like climate change and improve our management of water as a strategic resource.

2017-01-16 – This animation shows the SWOT mission satellite collecting precise water measurements. (Credits: NASA, JPL-Caltech)

Canada's contribution

Canada's participation in this mission brings significant benefits: it builds on the strength and expertise of our industry and its economic growth; it also represents an important gain in scientific knowledge.

Technology

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) accepted NASA's invitation to participate in the SWOT mission by providing a key component of the wide-swath radar instrument – a set of extended interaction klystrons (EIKs). This is a modest contribution to this major US$1.2B investment but nevertheless crucial, as the EIKs will amplify the power needed by the wide-swath instrument to generate the microwave pulses that will be used to measure water surface elevation.

Communications & Power Industries Canada Inc. (CPI) is world-renowned for its expertise in building this sophisticated device, as no other firms have a proven record of building and flying space-grade EIKs.

Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission
Text version

SWOT - Surface Water and Topography Mission

The infographic shows the Earth from space, with the SWOT mission satellite in the foreground. There is an arrow pointing at the spot on the satellite where Canada's contribution to the mission, a high-tech-device, is installed. There is a picture of the device on the infographic.

Canada's contribution to the SWOT mission satellite will help collect precise water measurements.

The data will contribute to improving:

  • weather and climate predictions
  • ocean circulation models
  • water management

SWOT - Surface Water and Topography Mission infographic. (Credit: CSA)

Science

Through this partnership, Canadian scientists obtained privileged access to software tools required to understand SWOT data. SWOT data is expected to lead to improvements in many water-related services in Canada, including flood warning systems, sea level and ocean currents monitoring, and implementing sustainable water management policies.

The SWOT Canadian science team, led by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, will be working towards mission objectives and desired outcomes within two main areas of research, hydrology and oceanography, to enhance our understanding of:

Hydrology

Mission objectives and desired outcomes for hydrology research
Mission objectives Desired outcomes
  • to measure the height and slope of fresh water bodies;
  • to calculate the rate of water gained or lost in lakes, reservoirs and wetlands;
  • to evaluate discharge variations in rivers.
  • to improve our estimation of surface water availability;
  • to assist in understanding important water-related hazards, such as floods;
  • to gain knowledge on the global water cycle.

Oceanography

Mission objectives and desired outcomes for cceanography research
Mission objectives Desired outcomes
  • to obtain precise measurements of ocean elevation features;
  • to measure small- and medium-scale features of the ocean's surface such as eddies and fronts.
  • to better understand small-scale ocean circulation, which transports half of the heat and carbon from the upper to the deep ocean, a critical process linked to global climate change;
  • to help predict and characterize tides and storm surge features;
  • to improve ocean circulation models leading to better prediction of ocean currents, weather and climate important for navigation, fisheries and offshore commercial operations.

Benefits to Canadians

The information received will greatly improve the delivery of services related to key national priorities related to water, such as marine safety and security, water management, responsible resource development, environmental monitoring, fisheries, climate change adaptation, marine transportation and sustainable development in the North. For example:

Marine safety and security

Example: Support the Canadian Coast Guard's search and rescue operations at sea by providing better information on currents to more accurately forecast the positions of drifting objects, ice and icebergs.

Water management

Example: Environment and Climate Change Canada in cooperation with provincial and territorial partners, monitors water level and flow at approximately 2500 key locations on lakes and rivers in Canada (Water Survey of Canada). Due to the complexity and cost of operating ground-based hydrometric monitoring gauges, especially in remote regions, this represents only a small fraction of the total number of lakes and rivers in Canada. SWOT will provide coverage of most lakes and rivers up to four times every three weeks, including northern Canada, where very few measurements are currently available. This first global inventory of Canadian waters will serve to improve our water management and assist in prediction of floods and drought.

Responsible resource development

Example: Measurements provided by SWOT will benefit user communities such as structural engineers who use hydrometric data to optimize the design of various types of structures such as bridges, culverts, pipeline crossings, dams, reservoirs, hydroelectric plants, dykes and other water-related structures.

Environmental monitoring

Example: Support the management of ecological disasters such as oil spills and/or other potential contaminants by providing precise forecasts of the dissemination of contaminants.

Canadian fisheries

Example: Support Canadian fisheries' activities by monitoring the patterns of commercial species migrations to provide fish harvesters with accurate predictability of fish locations using highly precise information on ocean eddies in zones of high productivity.

Marine transportation

Example: Provide optimized shipping routes based on accurate knowledge of marine currents. These optimized shipping routes have demonstrated up to 8% savings on time and fuel for crossing the Atlantic, which represents a significant efficiency improvement for marine operators.

Sustainable development in the North

Example: SWOT's high-valued data will assist decision makers in the development of new infrastructure in the North. One of the by-products of SWOT, that will add to data provided by other satellites, is the measurement of sea-ice thickness, which will facilitate maritime traffic in icy waters. Information provided to the government on water quality and quantity will support biodiversity and habitat assessments, as well as environmental prediction activities.

AirSWOT: data calibration and validation

AirSWOT (Airborne Surface Water and Ocean Topography) is a calibration, validation and science support instrument for the SWOT mission. It flies on NASA's B-200 aircraft to collect observations that will help the science community prepare for the mission. It will also be used to validate data from the SWOT satellite once it is in space.

AirSWOT campaign 2017

The AirSWOT campaign included ground-based observations and flights. It allowed Canadian and US scientists to collect data on lakes, wetlands and rivers in Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Northwest Territories. It is part of NASA's Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE), which flies a suite of scientific instruments over northwest Canada and Alaska to support fieldwork for hundreds of researchers.

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