A new processing algorithm has been developed to extract rivers and lakes level findings from raw radar altimeter data. The development effort was headed by Professor Philippa Berry of the UK's De Montfort University: "The new radar altimeter product is a great leap forward for hydrologists. It gives them a new tool to study both the historical changes in water table levels and critically important data to use in forecasting models of water availability, hydroelectric power production, flood and drought events and overall climate changes."
The Radar Altimeter 2 (RA-2) flown aboard ESA's Envisat environmental satellite is the improved follow-on to earlier radar altimeters on the ERS-1 and ERS-2 spacecraft. From its 800 km-high polar orbit it sends 1800 separate radar pulses down to Earth per second then records how long their echoes take to return timing their journey down to under a nanosecond to calculate the exact distance to the planet below.
Radar altimeters were first flown in space back in the 1970s, aboard NASA's Skylab and Seasat. These early efforts stayed focused firmly on the oceans, as less-smooth land surfaces returned indecipherable signals. But as the technology improved reliable land height data became available. Envisat's RA-2 has an innovative 'four-wheel drive' tracking system allowing it to
Contact: Jerome Benveniste
European Space Agency