A Review of Ocean Acoustic Tomography - 1987-1990

Worcester, PF, Cornuelle BD, Spindel RC.  1991.  A Review of Ocean Acoustic Tomography - 1987-1990. Reviews of Geophysics. 29:557-570.


australia, florida, long-range propagation, marginal ice-zone, mesoscale, resolution, sound, speed, transmissions, travel-time


Research in ocean acoustic tomography during the last quadrennium has resulted in substantial progress in understanding the capabilities and limitations of the technique. Theoretical studies and numerical simulations have led to greater understanding of the oceanographic information available in a vertical slice from acoustic transmissions between a single pair of instruments, of the horizontal geometries required to map the ocean mesoscale field with specified precision, and of the properties of tomographic reconstructions of the two-dimensional vector field of current. Simultaneously, the instrumentation used in tomographic experiments has been significantly improved, increasing the precision of the measurements and making gyre and basin scale experiments feasible between moored instruments. Experimental efforts to test the accuracy with which the ocean temperature and current fields can be measured acoustically have now demonstrated that tomographic techniques provide measurements with oceanographically useful precision up to ranges of about 1000 km. Such demonstrations are difficult due to the incompatibility between point measurements and the spatial averages provided by tomographic techniques. The experiments have also yielded significant information on the character of acoustic propagation at long range in the ocean. Experimental precision is now adequate to distinguish between competing algorithms for sound speed as a function of temperature, salinity, and depth. Finally, and most importantly, emphasis has shifted to use of the technique for studying the ocean, rather than on understanding the capabilities and limitations of the technique. Two major experiments, the Greenland Sea Tomography Experiment and the Gulf Stream Extension Tomography Experiment, both conducted during 1988-89, were devoted to improving our understanding of ocean dynamics, although results are not yet available. There is increased emphasis on exploiting the integrating nature of acoustic transmissions to study gyre and global scale temperature variability, phenomena difficult to study in any other way.