Airbus Defence and Space

SMOS: salt and water

The latest satellite to study the oceans is SMOS, launched on a Rockot vehicle from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia in November 2009.

SMOS, which stands for Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity, is the second Earth Explorer Opportunity mission selected under the European Space Agency’s Living Planet programme. It will circle the Earth every three days tracking the planet’s water cycle by measuring the amount of water in soil and salt in the oceans. Information on these two levels will greatly aid scientists in their work on how water moves around the planet, aiding our understanding of climate and how it is changing.

While soil contains only 0.001% of the world’s water (the oceans make up 96.5%) the moisture it contains plays a key part of global temperature, humidity and precipitation. Better data on soil moisture will improve our ability to predict short- and medium-term weather patterns, as well as adding to our knowledge of carbon cycles. Ocean salinity, together with surface temperature, determines seawater density, a central factor in ocean flow around the globe, a process that plays a crucial role in regulating climate.