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The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission

An international mission

The SWOT mission is providing 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 surveys 90% of Earth's surface water; observes the fine details of the ocean's surface topography; and measures how lakes, rivers, reservoirs and oceans are changing over time.

By using innovative technology, SWOT measures ocean features at spatial scales up to 10 times smaller than previous technologies can. These precise measurements 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.


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 amplify the power needed by the wide-swath instrument to generate the microwave pulses that are used to measure water surface elevation.

Communications & Power Industries Canada Inc. 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.

Collecting surface water and ocean topography measurements from space

Text version of the infographic SWOT - Surface Water and Topography Mission

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


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.

Elements to be studied by Canadian scientists with SWOT mission data

Text version The SWOT mission - surveying Earth's surface water to help adapt to climate change and improve water management - infographic

Infographic presenting elements to be studied by Canadian scientists with SWOT mission data. (Credit: CSA)

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

  • the water cycles across the country;
  • sea level changes and ocean current variations in Canadian waters.


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 and estuaries.
  • 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.


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 provides coverage of most lakes and rivers up to four times every three weeks, including northern Canada, where very few measurements were taken previously. This global inventory of Canadian waters serves to improve our water management and assist in prediction of floods and drought.

Responsible resource development

Example: Measurements provided by SWOT 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 adds to data provided by other satellites, is the measurement of sea-ice thickness, which facilitates 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.

Participating universities

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