Applications of Satellite Altimetry to Oceanography and Geophysics

Cheney, RE, Douglas BC, Sandwell DT, Marsh JG, Martin TV.  1984.  Applications of Satellite Altimetry to Oceanography and Geophysics. Marine Geophysical Researches. 7:17-32.


Satellite-borne altimeters have had a profound impact on geodesy, geophysics, and physical oceanography. To first order approximation, profiles of sea surface height are equivalent to the geoid and are highly correlated with seafloor topography for wavelengths less than 1000 km. Using all available Geos-3 and Seasat altimeter data, mean sea surfaces and geoid gradient maps have been computed for the Bering Sea and the South Pacific. When enhanced using hill-shading techniques, these images reveal in graphic detail the surface expression of seamounts, ridges, trenches, and fracture zones. Such maps are invaluable in oceanic regions where bathymetric data are sparse. Superimposed on the static geoid topography is dynamic topography due to ocean circulation. Temporal variability of dynamic height due to oceanic eddies can be determined from time series of repeated altimeter profiles. Maps of sea height variability and eddy kinetic energy derived from Geos-3 and Seasat altimetry in some cases represent improvements over those derived from standard oceanographic observations. Measurement of absolute dynamic height imposes stringent requirements on geoid and orbit accuracies, although existing models and data have been used to derive surprisingly realistic global circulation solutions. Further improvement will only be made when advances are made in geoid modeling and precision orbit determination. In contrast, it appears that use of altimeter data to correct satellite orbits will enable observation of basin-scale sea level variations of the type associated with climatic phenomena.