First Images From European Space Agency’s SMOS

Last November the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) with the mission of improving our understanding of the Earth’s water cycle. The goal of SMOS mapping soil and salinity variables is to better our understanding of the exchange processes between Earth’s surface and atmosphere, our ability to create accurate weather and climate models, and improve both agriculture and water resource management. This week SMOS sent back its first images of “brightness temperature,” which measures the radiation emitted from the Earth’s surface.

Brightness Temperature imaging from Scandanavia

Brightness Temperature imaging from Scandanavia


The ESA can use these brightness temperature images to derive moisture levels in soil surface layers and salt levels on the ocean’s surface waters. High brightness temperatures mean dry soil and low brightness means wet areas.

“Our development team is extremely happy and proud to see the real performance of the SMOS system in orbit. We are only half-way through the in-orbit commissioning phase and it is rewarding to see these first very promising calibrated products delivered by SMOS.” — Achim Hahne, ESA’s SMOS Project Manager.

The SMOS is still in its commissioning phase, where SMOS components are being tested and calibrated, but all initial results are returning positive results. Calibrating images makes corrections for errors caused by things like temperature variations in antenna receivers or light reflected from the Sun and Moon.

For example, here is an uncalibrated image of Australia:

Uncalibrated brightness temperature imaging

Uncalibrated brighness temperature imaging

Here is a calibrated image, where geophysical traits, like lakes, are clearly visible:

Calibrated brightness temperature imaging

Calibrated brightness temperature imaging

“For the ocean products, a lot of work still has to be done before the release of operational data. The low sensitivity to variations in salinity requires very accurate instrument calibration and data processing to achieve the mission’s measurement goals for ocean salinity. However, the excellent performance of MIRAS, and the work being done in commissioning means we are very close to obtaining good results for measuring salinity.” — Jordi Font, Lead Investigator for ocean salinity

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Author: Scott James

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