Wed. Sep 27th, 2023
Water-watching Satellite Monitors Warming Ocean off California Coast

The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite, a collaboration between NASA and the French space agency, CNES, is providing unprecedented detail in measuring the movement of warm ocean waters off the coast of California. These warm waters are a result of the developing El Niño and are interacting with a persistent marine heat wave. The SWOT satellite is able to measure the height of water on Earth’s surface, including oceans, lakes, and rivers.

The satellite uses the Ka-band Radar Interferometer (KaRIn) instrument to collect water-height measurements by bouncing radar pulses off the water’s surface. The data obtained from the SWOT satellite shows higher-than-average sea surface heights in red and orange, indicating warmer waters, while blue and green represent lower-than-average heights.

The ability of SWOT to measure sea surface heights close to the coastline is valuable for researchers and forecasters monitoring phenomena like El Niño. El Niño is characterized by higher sea levels and warmer ocean temperatures along the western coast of the Americas. In addition to warmer water, El Niño also weakens the equatorial trade winds, which can result in cooler, wetter conditions in the U.S. Southwest and drought in countries like Indonesia and Australia.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecasted a greater than 70% chance of a strong El Niño this coming winter. The data collected by SWOT will be instrumental in understanding the development and progress of this climate phenomenon.

The SWOT satellite’s ability to provide detailed measurements of ocean features close to coastlines sets it apart from previous space-based missions. This data will contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of ocean dynamics and climate patterns.

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