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California’s Death Valley, the driest place in North America, has hosted an ephemeral lake since late 2023. A NASA-led analysis recently calculated water depths in the temporary lake over several weeks in February and March 2024, demonstrating the capabilities of the U.S.-French Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite, which launched in December 2022.  

The analysis found that water depths in the lake ranged from about 3 feet (1 meter) to less than 1.5 feet (0.5 meters) over the course of about 6 weeks. This period included a series of storms that swept across California, bringing record amounts of rainfall.  

To estimate the depth of the lake, known informally as Lake Manly, researchers used water level data collected by SWOT and subtracted corresponding U.S. Geological Survey land elevation information for Badwater Basin.  

The researchers found that the water levels varied across space and time in the roughly 10-day period between SWOT observations. In the accompanying visualization, water depths of about 3 feet (1 meter) appear dark blue; those of less than 1.5 feet (0.5 meters) appear light yellow. Right after a series of storms in early February, the temporary lake was about 6 miles (10 kilometers) long and 3 miles (5 kilometers) wide. Each pixel in the image represents an area that is about 330 feet by 330 feet (100 meters by 100 meters). 

 

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