Europe: Satellite measures pre-flood record soil moisture

Massive floods have heavily affected regions in Germany, Austria, Czech Republic and other European countries over the past days taking at least five human lives and causing damages of a yet undetermined extent. In order to better prepare for such floods in the future, satellites such as ESA's SMOS could help to improve the accuracy of flood prediction by measuring the soil moisture. Prior to the torrential rains, SMOS showed that soils in Germany were showing record levels of moisture – in fact, the highest ever observed. The picture shows the wet soils in blues and the dryer soils in yellows.

ESA's Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission monitors the amount of water held in the surface layers of the soil and the concentration of salt in the top layer of seawater. This information is helping scientists understand more about how water is cycled between the oceans, atmosphere and land – Earth’s water cycle. It is also helping to improve weather forecasts.

ESA’s SMOS mission scientist, Matthias Drusch, explains, “Data from SMOS can be used to monitor the saturation of the soil. “At the end of May we see that the soil was almost fully saturated, with record values for moisture. More rain meant that it immediately ran off as the surplus water could not soak into the soil, and this resulted in these terrible floods.