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International Satellite to Track Impacts of Small Ocean Currents

(FMNews) -The Surface Water and Ocean Topography mission will explore how the ocean absorbs atmospheric heat and carbon, moderating global temperatures and climate change.
 
Though climate change is driving sea level rise over time, researchers also believe that differences in surface height from place to place in the ocean can affect Earth’s climate. These highs and lows are associated with currents and eddies, swirling rivers in the ocean, that influence how it absorbs atmospheric heat and carbon.
 
The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission will collect information on sea level height, which will help scientists study the role of currents in moderating climate change, as well as the elevations of bodies of fresh water. The mission is jointly led by NASA and CNES, with contributions from the UKSA and CSA.
 
Observing the ocean at relatively small scales will help scientists assess its role in moderating climate change. The planet’s largest storehouse of atmospheric heat and carbon, the ocean has absorbed more than 90% of the heat trapped by human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
 
 
 Much of the continued uptake of that heat – and the excess carbon dioxide and methane that produced it – is thought to occur around currents and eddies less than 60 miles (100 kilometers) across. These flows are small relative to currents such as the Gulf Stream and the California Current, but researchers estimate that in the aggregate they transfer up to half the heat and carbon from surface waters to the ocean’s depths.
 
Better understanding this phenomenon may be key to determining whether there’s a ceiling to the ocean’s ability to absorb heat and carbon from human activities.
 
In addition to helping researchers study the climate impacts of small currents, SWOT’s ability to “see” smaller areas of Earth’s surface will allow it to collect more precise data along coastlines, where rising ocean levels and the flow of currents can have immediate impacts on land ecosystems and human activity.
 
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