Extreme flooding incidents have become common in most parts of the world mostly due to climate change. Predicting when and where the disaster will strike is crucial in order to design and implement safety measures preventing casualties and infrastructure damage.
The new Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite will gather elaborate data about water surface elevation of rivers, oceans and lakes around the world. It will be able to cover about 90% of the Earth's total surface and record water level changes at least 2 times every 21 days. The mission will aid in modeling flood incidents and ocean circulation more accurately and will improve climate predictions.
According to Dr. Renato Frasson, lead author of the study and Senior Research Associate at the Ohio State University, the efficiency of current flood maps is mitigated due to inaccurate terrain models. “The flood maps — the 100-year, 500-year flood plains — they are only as good as our understanding of the terrain. And land use changes, rivers migrate, sometimes naturally, other times due to human activity. However, in some areas of the world, the best available maps are not updated often enough. With this mission, we will be able to go in and correct that old data,” Dr. Frasson emphasizes.
The endeavor will highly aid prediction modeling in under-studied parts of the globe, most of them located in Africa, Indonesia and South America. However, it will also be useful in areas that are thoroughly studied such as the United States.
Scientists evaluated the potential of the new satellite by comparing data collected from the Dartmouth Flood Observatory at the University of Colorado associated with the areas that the SWOT mission will pass by. The research team found that, based on the database used by the Observatory, the satellite will be able to capture about 55% of the total amount of floods worldwide.
“At first, it might not seem that exciting — just 55 percent of floods. But what is really worth knowing is that, because we had this data from the Dartmouth Flood Observatory, we were able to see that the more intense the flood, the larger number of people who were displaced, and the more likely SWOT is to see those floods. And because SWOT is flying over areas of the world that have very little monitoring, it is likely to capture more floods than we would have otherwise known about,” Dr. Frasson, stated.
The ultimate purpose of SWOT mission is to provide the data to improve the prediction models, giving time for people to take the necessary safety measures or even to evacuate a hazardous region.
Source: Ohio State University