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    Satellite launched to map the world’s oceans, lakes, rivers

    Marcia Dunn

    AP – A United States (US) French satellite that will map almost all of the world’s oceans, lakes and rivers rocketed into orbit on Friday.

    The predawn launch aboard a SpaceX rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California capped a highly successful year for NASA.

    Nicknamed SWOT – short for Surface Water and Ocean Topography – the satellite is needed more than ever as climate change worsens droughts, flooding and coastal erosion, according to scientists.

    “We’re going to be able to see things that we could just not see before… and really understand where water is at any given time,” said Benjamin Hamlington at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

    About the size of an SUV, the satellite will measure the height of water on more than 90 per cent of Earth’s surface, allowing scientists to track the flow and identify potential high-risk areas. It will also survey millions of lakes as well as 2.1 million kilometres of rivers, from headwater to mouth.

    In this image made from video provided by NASA, a SpaceX rocket carrying the Surface Water and Ocean Topography satellite lifts off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. PHOTO: AP

    The satellite will shoot radar pulses at Earth, with the signals bouncing back to be received by a pair of antennas, one on each end of a 10-metre boom.

    It should be able to make out currents and eddies less than 21 kilometres across, as well as areas of the ocean where water masses of varying temperatures merge. NASA’s current fleet of nearly 30 Earth-observing satellites cannot make out such slight features. And while these older satellites can map the extent of lakes and rivers, their measurements are not as detailed, said the University of North Carolina’s Tamlin Pavelsky, who is part of the mission.

    Perhaps most importantly, the satellite will reveal the location and speed of rising sea levels and the shift of coastlines, key to saving lives and property. It will cover the globe between the Arctic and Antarctica at least once every three weeks, as it orbits more than 890 kilometres high. The mission is expected to last three years.

    NASA and the French Space Agency collaborated on the USD1.2-billion project, with Britain and Canada chipping in.

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