While space scientists ‘follow the water’ when hunting for life on other planets; the same is true on our own: all life on land depends on surface freshwater. It is found mainly in the form of rivers, lakes and wetlands. And as zones of high biodiversity these water bodies often keep local populations sustained with sustenance as well as drinking water – it being all the more important they are carefully studied and safeguarded.
These bodies owe their existence on land to the water cycle, with water vapour carried from the oceans by evaporation to fall on the ground as rain then trace their way back to the sea short with the help of gravity. But as a solar-energy-driven process, the water cycle has the potential to be disrupted by global warming.
From space, radar altimeters can monitor worldwide water levels; even trace the rate of a river’s downhill flow. Optical and radar instruments can identify any changes in area, while spectrometers can measure water quality, applying algorithms to the water colour to decipher the complex mixture of pollutants, suspended sediments and living and decomposing phytoplankton contributing to it.
And ESA’s SMOS mission maps relative soil moisture – an important climate variable – as a means of giving early warning of droughts or extreme weather.
08 February 2016
Monitoring Earth's surface every day, ESA's Proba-V minisatellite has had a ringside seat as the second largest lake in Bolivia gradually dried up. Lake Poopó has now been declared fully evaporated.
29 January 2016
Ground measurements are essential for making sure that satellites deliver accurate information about our changing world. Although the Tibetan Plateau may not seem the obvious place to take such readings, this remote location is being used to check on ESA's SMOS satellite.
Specific Topics on Water
The management of land based water resources is of particular importance to the large parts of the world which still lack reliable access to water. It is crucial to understand both the hydrological cycle and distribution of these scarce resources.
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