SWOT satellite successfully launched with mission to examine Earth's surface water


Esporles, 16th December 2022

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and CNES (Centre National d'Études Spatiales), with the collaboration of the Canadian Space Agency and the United Kingdom Space Agency, have today launched the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite into space, which is set to orbit our planet until 2026.

SWOT, whose mission involves researchers from the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) and the Balearic Islands Coastal Ocean Observing and Forecasting System (ICTS SOCIB), will for the first time provide information on the salt and fresh water bodies covering over 90% of Earth's surface. In addition, it will provide ocean surface topography measurements with a higher resolution than ever before, thus addressing some of the most pressing questions about climate change and making it possible to improve future climate forecasts.

The launch has taken place today, Thursday 15th December at 12:46 pm CET, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Californian (UU EE). The spacecraft is now scheduled to enter an initial ‘fast sampling’ phase lasting six months, after which it will start measuring water height in lakes, rivers, reservoirs and oceans. Measurements from the spacecraft's scientific instruments will also help global communities monitor and plan for changes in water resources, as well as potential hazards, including floods, looming in different regions of the world.

Water is essential for life, but it also plays a fundamental role in heat and carbon storage and movement processes that directly affect the climate. Tracking the Earth's water (where it is today, where it comes from and where it will be tomorrow) is fundamental to understanding how the planet's water resources are changing and the impact these changes have on our life and that of ecosystems. 

In situ data and numerical simulations

In order to gain a deeper understanding of these processes and facilitate decision-making about the future of global communities, a group of researchers belonging to the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA CSIC-UIB) and the Balearic Islands Coastal Ocean Observing and Forecasting System (ICTS SOCIB) are participating in the international NASA team associated with the satellite. Their contribution begins under the project FaSt-SWOT, when the satellite will start sending repeated measurements of the waters south of Majorca. During this fast sampling phase the team will collect small-scale ocean current data from integrated multiplatform experiments and numerical simulations around the Balearic Islands. The experiment will be coordinated with another oceanographic campaign carried out by French teams.

‘The SWOT mission enables the scientific community to track water movement around the world—a unique opportunity to improve our knowledge of ocean dynamics at a resolution never observed before, including Spanish waters,’ explains Ananda Pascual, IMEDEA researcher and leader of the only national group participating in the mission. Pascual refers to the western Mediterranean region, one of the strategic areas for the mission, since the Mediterranean Sea is an ideal laboratory for the study of globally relevant oceanic processes, such as the formation of water masses, boundary currents, eddies and meso/sub-mesoscale instabilities, carbon export and associated ecosystem responses. 

The Spanish team will undertake the sampling work during two oceanographic campaigns on board the vessel B/O SOCIB: one in April and the other in May 2023. From land, they will integrate the data collected on site with new satellite observations into high-resolution regional models. The aim is to achieve a reliable three-dimensional reconstruction that will complete the map of ocean regions which are invisible to the satellite.

Baptiste Mourre, a researcher at the ICTS SOCIB, is coordinating the operations to integrate the satellite observations into the models. ‘Through this operation, which involves complementary samples of temperature, salinity and currents from underwater gliders and drifting buoys, we seek to better understand the complex ocean dynamics, so as to be able to improve the predictions’ says Mourre.

Joining forces by land, sea and air is vital for an oceanographic study of this kind, in which small-scale structures with a significant impact on marine ecosystems are expected to be observed.

This collaboration completes the work undertaken in 2018, prior to the launch of the satellite. During the Pre-Swot phase, this team already carried out a multiplatform oceanographic campaign in southern Balearic waters on board the vessel García del Cid, which was aimed at calibrating and validating the SWOT satellite.


-       Press Kit (IMEDEA/SOCIB).

-       Pre-SWOT Campaign 2018.

-       SWOT Press Kit (NASA).