Soils of UK and Europe drying out

05/10/2011 22:53


The scale of just how dry the start of 2011 has been is evident in some fascinating data from one of Europe's latest Earth observation satellites.

Smos senses the moisture in the top layers of soil, and it is very clear in these maps that the ground across the UK and much of Europe is now gasping for water.

Last month was the warmest April on record in Britain.

It was also the 11th driest month (since 1910), with on average just half the usual rainfall. And in parts of south-east England, there was less than 10% of normal precipitation.

"Space chopper": The Smos radiometer makes the satellite look like a helicopter

Smos is an experimental mission of the European Space Agency (Esa), and is providing some novel information to meteorologists, hydrologists and other scientists interested in how water moves around the globe.

The 760km-high satellite carries an 8m-wide interferometric radiometer that senses the natural emission of microwaves coming up off the planet's surface.

Variations in the water content of soils will modify this signal.

The maps at the very top of this page - which were specially prepared for the BBC - are monthly averages. Blue colours denote wetter earth; yellow colours show drier conditions.

The comparison between the two maps illustrates neatly the process of drying out through March and April.

Data from Smos agrees well with recorded rainfall patterns.



Share |