The groundbreaking Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission satellite was launched on 2 November 2009 from the Plesetsk cosmodrome. This Franco-Spanish satellite project makes it possible to measure soil moisture and ocean salinity from space for the first time. It is an example of how the French government is keen to address climate change, not just through legislation and through proposed carbon taxes, but by playing a major role climate change science.
Thales Alenia Space is the prime contractor for the SMOS’ mission to measure soil moisture and the ocean salinity on a global scale. Until now it has not been possible to measure these aspects from space, even though the concept was first suggested 40 years ago. SMOS is a joint project between the Centre of National Space Studies (CNES) in France and the Centre for the Technological and Industrial Development (CDTI) in Spain. The mission was proposed in 1998 and is the outcome of novel uses of radio astronomy technology. In layman terms, to acquire data on soil moisture and ocean salinity, each of the antenna-receivers measures radiation emitted from Earth’s surface. The complex design of SMOS puts France and Spain onto the map for “space industry.”
The two parameters, soil moisture and ocean salinity, are of key scientific interest in better understanding the Earth’s water cycle and its relationship to climate change. Salinity directly influences ocean current circulation, which in turn provoke El Nino and La Nina phenomena. Specialists at CNES posit that the scientific feedback will provide a better understanding of the water cycle, allowing for advances in a wide range of fields, including: meteorology, risk management, marine resources, and urban development.
SMOS has a fieldview of 1000 km and captures 80 different measurements. The satellite orbits the Earth 15 times a day and will supply a map of all of Earth’s surfaces to those on the ground every three days. Dr. Christine Gommenginger at the National Oceanographic Center in Southampton, UK is thankful to the French and Spanish leadership that made the SMOS project reality. The data will be shared across the world. As Dr. Gommenginger expresses, such projects are extremely important at a time of large-scale international climate negotiations: ‘the oceans are interacting with the atmosphere, transporting and exchanging heat and freshwater; such interactions are important and will affect and be affected by global warming.”
A second salinity satellite mission paired between the USA and Argentina, Aquarius, is expected to launch in Autumn 2010.