First-Ever Global Survey of Earth’s Surface Water

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches with the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) spacecraft onboard, Friday, Dec. 16, 2022, from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Jointly developed by NASA and Centre National D'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), with contributions from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and United Kingdom Space Agency, SWOT is the first satellite mission that will observe nearly all water on Earth’s surface, measuring the height of water in the planet’s lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and the ocean. Credits: NASA/Keegan Barber

NASA has launched a Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite that will support global water applications led by CEE Professor Edward Beighley. Launched on December 16, 2022, the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite will, for the first time, simultaneously measure elevations and extents of the Earth’s surface waters at high resolution. The satellite, a joint effort between NASA and the French space agency CNES, will measure almost everywhere on Earth as many as seven times every 21 days.

This video shows the deployment of the solar arrays that power the SWOT satellite. The arrays, which measure 48.8 feet (14.9 meters) from end to end, deployed over the course of about 10 minutes after the spacecraft’s Dec. 16 launch. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Ed Beighley, professor of civil and environmental engineering, has served on the SWOT mission’s science and applications teams, focused on sensing river discharge (essentially the amount and rate of water passing through a given location on a river). Thanks to this research, scientists, engineers, and water resource managers will have large amounts of high-resolution data for modeling river discharge—allowing better forecasting of and preparation for flood and drought conditions the world over, including remote regions that are otherwise unmonitored, and across political boundaries.

Beighley’s contributions to the mission were largely made possible by $2 million in NASA grants over the last 10 years. During this period, he served as PI on the SWOT science team and was one of two U.S. SWOT applications scientists. He is currently a member of SWOT applications team and is funded my NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc., working on new methods for integrating SWOT measurements into flood hazard applications for the global insurance industry and developing visualizations of the SWOT mission for use by media and in science communication to the general public.

“Building an inventory of river discharge characteristics for all these rivers is unprecedented,” says Beighley. “We’ll be able to monitor basically all the large rivers of the world.”

Related Faculty: R. Edward Beighley

Related Departments:Civil & Environmental Engineering