The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission

Launch: Currently planned for April 2021
Mission status: In development

An international mission

The SWOT mission, scheduled to launch in 2021, will provide us with new and detailed information on one of the most important resources we share – water.

Led by NASA and the French space agency (CNES), SWOT will survey 90% of the 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 with 10 times the resolution of current technologies. 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.

Animation – SWOT mission

2017-01-16 - This animation shows the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (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 accepted NASA's invitation to participate in the SWOT mission by providing a key component of the 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 generate and amplify the microwave pulses needed by the main instrument.

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 EIKs.

Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission
Text description of image

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. This device will be used to collect precise water measurements. The data collected will contribute to improving ocean circulation models, weather and climate predictions, and water management.

Credit: Canadian Space Agency

Science

Through this partnership, Canadian scientists will obtain early access to software tools required to understand SWOT data as it becomes available after satellite launch. SWOT data could lead to improvements in many water-related services in Canada, including weather predictions and flood warning systems.

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

Hydrology

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 understand important water-related hazards such as floods;
  • to gain knowledge on the global water cycle.

Oceanography

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 waves, eddies and fronts.
  • to better understand 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 the strength of a hurricane based on heat storage in the upper ocean;
  • to improve ocean circulation models leading to better prediction of weather and climate as well as variations in ocean currents 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, such as marine safety and security, water management, responsible resource development, environmental monitoring, canadian fisheries, 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: Canada is surrounded by three oceans and covered with millions of lakes and rivers, of which only 2500 (or less than 5% by some estimates) are actually monitored by ECCC for level and flow. SWOT will provide complete 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 designers 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 industrial 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 fishermen 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 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 includes ground-based observations and flights. It allows 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.

Link of interest