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Satellite Oceanography. Modified from a Presentation at STAO 2003 By Dr. Michael J. Passow. Ocean Satellites. Permit observations globally, especially useful where there are no ships or buoys

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satellite oceanography

Satellite Oceanography

Modified from a

Presentation at STAO 2003

By Dr. Michael J. Passow

ocean satellites
Ocean Satellites
  • Permit observations globally, especially useful where there are no ships or buoys
  • Developed later than meteorological and other environmental sensing because electromagnetic radiation penetrates ocean water only to limited depths
  • Improved sensors permit inferences about ocean at greater depths
satellite oceanography1
"Satellite Oceanography"
  • Surface topography, El Nino, and ocean winds are some of the areas investigated from space.

satellite oceanography applications
Satellite Oceanography Applications
  • Sea surface temperatures
  • Air-sea interactions
  • Sea Ice patterns
  • Monitoring ocean waves
  • Determining sea level variations
  • Analysis of ocean currents and eddies
  • Biological productivity
  • Precipitation patterns
two basic satellite orbits
“Polar Orbiting”


Takes about 90 minutes to make one revolution

Covers different areas each orbit as Earth rotates

Provides detailed images

Can produce time sequence

Geostationary (Geosynchronous)


Remains over same portion of planet by revolving with same period as Earth’s rotation

Can provide full disk or smaller views

Useful for weather and communication

Two basic satellite orbits
for more detailed studies we use polar orbiting satellites
For more detailed studies, we use “polar-orbiting” satellites
  • Polar-orbiting satellites are much closer to the surface (700 – 800 km) and make about 14 passes each day. They can provide good time sequence studies.

problem 2 how do you measure from a satellite
Problem 2—How do you measure from a satellite?
  • Satellites can detect what’s on Earth in two ways:
  • “passive” observation of energy reflected or radiated from the surface
  • “active” collection of signals beamed down from the satellite and reflected back

sea surface temperatures sst and thermal properties
Sea surface temperatures (SST) and thermal properties
  • Visible satellites can monitor difference between incoming solar radiation and reflected light
  • Infrared satellites can monitor IR energy emitted from surfaces
  • AVHRR (Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer) measure SSTs
  • Also monitored with MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer)
sst images link through dstreme ocean
SST Images[link through DStreme Ocean]

sea surface temperature anomalies ssta
Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies (SSTA)
  • Images constructed by measuring difference between “observed” and “expected” values – anomalies
  • Better approach to recognizing “what is unusual,” not just “what is”
  • Especially useful for El Nino/La Nina studies—example:
ssta images
SSTA images

SeaWIFS has allowed us to monitor the links between physical and chemical conditions and marine biology
  • Biological response to climate changes

sea surface topography
Sea Surface Topography
  • Variations in sea surface heights caused by gravity variations (sea floor topography and geology)
  • Also seasonal changes in atmospheric and ocean circulation patterns
  • Radar altimeters aboard TOPEX/Poseidon and Jason satellites
  • AMS “Measuring Sea Level from Space”
topex poseidon is
TOPEX-Poseidon is…
  • a partnership between the U.S. and France to monitor global ocean circulation, discover the tie between the oceans and atmosphere, and improve global climate predictions. Every 10 days, the TOPEX/Poseidon satellite measures global sea level with unparalleled accuracy.

topex has been especially useful in understanding
TOPEX has been especially useful in understanding…
  • Variations in sea surface temperatures. This has been the most important instrument for observing El Nino/ La Nina changes in the Pacific Ocean, and all the effects on climate

Jason 1 is a follow-on mission to TOPEX-


Monitors global ocean circulation, studies ties between the oceans and atmosphere, improves global climate forecasts and predictions, and monitors events such as El Niño conditions and ocean eddies.

sea ice extent
Sea Ice Extent
  • Areal extent, amount, and thickness important for oceanographers and operationally
  • Visible images not feasible during winter
  • POES microwave sensors provide operational ice analyses
  • The next slide shows an example of sea ice cover in the Northern Hemisphere
canadian sea ice imagery
Canadian Sea Ice Imagery

Ice conditions monitored by satellite and ships are available at