Matthias Drusch has been involved with the SMOS mission since joining ESA in 2008. As Mission Scientist, his role in supporting the mission preparations has been to ensure that the satellite, ground data processing systems and resulting product quality are compatible with the expectations of the scientific community.
Drusch, a German national, joined ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands in May 2008 as the Mission Science Division’s Principal Land Surface Scientist.
He obtained his Diploma degree from Kiel University and his PhD from Bonn University, both in Germany. Before joining ESA, Drusch worked at Princeton University and the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). He was a member of the SMOS Science Advisory Group from 2004 to 2008.
ESA: What have been the most challenging aspects of the mission, in terms of science?
SMOS is an Earth Explorer mission and has, by definition, a large number of scientific challenges. Generating brightness temperature data from an interferometric L-band radiometer has certainly been one big challenge. A second major challenge stems from the fact that the instrument will only observe the upper-most centimetres of Earth’s surface. For many applications, this information has then to be related to deeper layers, i.e. surface salinity to the ocean mixed layer and surface soil moisture to the root zone.
ESA: How important will the data from SMOS be for the scientific community?
SMOS has been designed to deliver a number of unique firsts, which have been very high on scientists’ wish lists. Ocean salinity has never been observed using an L-band interferometric radiometer from a spaceborne instrument before. Over land, surface-soil moisture will be determined with an accuracy that is comparable to that obtained from measurements taken on the ground. Both ocean salinity and soil moisture are key parameters that characterise exchange processes between Earth’s surface and the atmosphere. Consequently, an increased understanding of how they vary over space and time will advance our understanding of the global water and energy cycles.
ESA: Will the data have any practical applications?
As an Earth Explorer, SMOS data will serve the science community first. However, ESA has been very successful in involving operational users since the mission started to be developed. Weather prediction centres will exploit and integrate data from SMOS into their forecast systems to increase predictability. Eventually, the data can also be used for water resource management, agricultural and hydrological applications including crop-yield modelling and flood forecasting, and in operational oceanography.
ESA: Will you still be involved in the mission once the satellite is in orbit delivering data?
After launch and commissioning phase, I will continue to support the Mission Manager. I will also be involved with maintaining the strong links we have and fostering new cooperation with users, such as operational oceanographers and weather forecasting centres. We would like to trigger the scientific exploitation of SMOS data to develop new products beyond the current Level-2 and -3 product suites.
ESA: Where will you be for launch?
I will almost certainly be at ESOC. In addition, I will support the pre-launch event organised by the German SMOS Project Office in Hamburg and the pre-launch press event at ESRIN.
This is one in a series of interviews with a few of the key people involved in the SMOS mission. Please check back, as the list will be added to over the coming weeks.