The European Smos spacecraft, launched in November, is sending valuable new data on the way water is cycled around the globe, despite experiencing continued interference.
Smos carries a single instrument - an interferometric radiometer called Miras. Some eight metres across, it has the look of helicopter rotor blades. Miras measures changes in soil moisture and ocean salinity by observing variations in the natural microwave emission
(L-band) coming up off the surface of the planet. Tracking such trends will have wide applications, but should improve weather forecasts and warnings of extreme events, such as floods.
The early data suggests Miras is performing exceptionally well, picking out subtle features that will be of huge value to hydrologists, meteorologists, oceanographers, and many others. Smos watched recently as large areas of eastern Australia were soaked by rainwater and then tracked how the soil dried out over the following days.
In addition, Smos is returning some fascinating information on the polar regions. Scientists can discern in the satellite data where ice thins at the rocky edges of Antarctica. They can even see melt-water sitting on top of sea-ice.
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