Happy Birthday SMOS !

(As you have guessed the eight “!” correspond to 8 candles .. upside down as SMOS is looking downward).

Yes SMOS has been in space for eight years now and, for a satellite, this is starting to be a somewhat venerable. So….What is next?

But first a quick appraisal:We have tried to depict in the previous blogs some of the achievements only giving a very small part of what was done in science (According to Web of Science, 1065 papers since 1999 and an H index of 52. Are there many missions which can claim such a scientific footprint (I have done it for other missions but by sheer charity I won’t mention it here) and applications (several operational applications after only a few years (remember that SMOS in an explorer and makes measurements never done before to be compared to mission with a very long track record but very few operational applications)?Now about the next steps…After SMOS came Aquarius and SMAP. Each with a different instrumental concept but a common feature, L band radiometry.  When accounting for system differences (spatial resolution, view angle or revisit) one can say that  the missions provides excessively similar results (as shown for instance by Chen and Bindlish when the run the SMAP algorithm on SMOS data and merged the two). All have clearly demonstrated the potentialities, innovation and unicity of such measurements. There are simply no equivalent in any other domain! One mustn’t be fooled by proxies claiming to be measurements.Back to our topic though. Where do we stand ?Aquarius is no more (due to a platform issue incidentally) and SMOS or SMAP won’t last forever (a sad thought indeed). Considering the time it takes to make and launch a satellite, one may wonder why there are no current plans in Europe (or US) for a follow on.This is not due to a lack of information as we have shown (at EU workshops for instance) what consequences a data gap could bring and how unique were the measurements. We even sent EU 3 letters (Land, Ocean and Cryosphere) signed by several hundred scientist worldwide, and I was flabbergasted when I saw the answers we received: a kind of “not interested” form letter. Especially when one can see that Copernicus programme “application oriented” does not wish to consider L band continuation, but nurtures plans with exploratory missions or copies of planned missions. One may also wonder as we were also told that Copernicus does not consider earth explorer as potential candidates (irrelevant) while having one in their plans.To make a long story short, agencies funded to develop explorers cannot support the follow ones (though they do it when it pleases them) and operational agencies prefer to support explorers than new operationally validated missions. Funny isn’t it?All his dos not really make sense while our decision makers are, without any doubt, sensible people. So why are we in such a catch 22 scenario?My belief is that the afore mentioned decision makers are no gurus in remote sensing and have to rely on counsellors who in many cases are no gurus either but keen to promote industries and other lobbies (so L band is obviously lacking an industrial backer!). Add to this mix a couple of hoity-toity advisers and pseudo specialists you get the big picture!I am also a bit surprised to see that some operational agencies gave very stringent requirement before even considering assimilating SMOS. All the requirements were satisfied but to no significant result up to now except regular postponements to go operational while they are ready to assiimilate other datasets satisfying none of the requirements dictated for Smos (and proving to be quite neutral incidentally. As if they feared to have to update improve their model now that real measurements are coming in, killing their adjusting functions. I also heard people saying assimilating SMOS did not have much impact but forgetting to mention that their models are not designed to assimilate SSS….But despite all this we haven’t lain on our oars and worked hard to prepare follow ons. Several options are openThe fastest would be to take existing concepts and update /improve from gained experience while the most efficient would be to review concept to achieve even more ambitious goals. We are also working on a improved SMOS concept with a typical native resolution of 10 km why other look at the potential L+P band concept. Adding active component is also an option to be considered. Finally we are also working on futuristic concepts !End of November we will have a meeting at CESBIO to develop our strategywith respect to future L band missions and a meeting at ECMWF for the way forward in terms of applications.A small note here about resolution by the way. Native means to me 3 db Beamwidth. Obviously there are techniques to dis aggregate and achieve higher resolution. I also refer to the ” dB footprint not the grid sampling. It is always amazing to me to see people (assumed to be competent and honest) comparing two different  instrument spatial resolutions by comparing the native of one with the sampling of the other. may be they simply do not know how to read the specs or limit their analysis to coffer table brochures (or are not honest / competent which never happens of course).Also note that if no L band mission flies in the near future, the likelihood of loosing our very valuable protected bandwidth will become significant.Well SMOS is 8 years old now (in space! but was initiated long before that) and we can only wish it many happy returns!I believe we cannot end this little look back without thanking those who had the vision and supported our proposal at CNES and then ESAin teh mid ’90s, as well as mentioning and thanking enormously the team – led by Achim Hahne – who made our dreams come true and produced with CNES this wonderful mission, still running like clockwork (with all indicators bright green) after 8 years. We also have to thank the teams at ESA and CNES, in Toulouse, Frascati and Villafranca who – led by Susanne Mecklenburg – deliver all the excellent quality data in a very timely fashion (with two Near Real time products!) since launch. These two OP teams at CNES and ESAC do a terrific work!And of course thanks to all the l band radiometry users and the ESLs who produced all this science and these applications!I wish to end this set of post with an apology to all those I did not mention while they deserve to be. I made the posts on the spur of the moment with the illustrations I had at hand to realise soon after posting them that I could have added easily some other very relevant example. Sorry! I hope it will be an incentive  for those frustrated to put a post on this blog!Long life to SMOS and thanks to all those who made and make it possible!Yann

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