June 3, 2008

Charting and forecasting ocean conditions

Satellite altimetry is the only space-based technology capable of penetrating below the ocean surface. This capability will benefit a broad range of ocean forecasting applications, now and in the future.

12 June 2008

A wealth of applications …

One of the key components measured by satellite altimetry is ocean currents. “Altimetry measurements yield complex information about the full range of physical ocean parameters—currents, temperature and salinity—and serve many applications,” explains Philippe Escudier, in charge of the Space Oceanography division at CLS*.
For example, by predicting drift due to currents, areas where an oil slick is likely to wash ashore can be identified early to organize relief efforts. “We can also retrace events,” says Escudier. “Combining data on an oil slick with current charts gives a good idea of the slick’s previous position. We can then look at the paths of ships in the area to identify the suspect ship.”
This kind of information is also useful for regulating and optimizing fishing, says Escudier. “Current and temperature charts tell us where fish are likely to be feeding or reproducing.”

Many other sectors also use such data, like defence and offshore oil operations for which strong currents are a danger.

… and a promising future

Today, researchers are working to predict fish stocks several months ahead, to adjust a ship’s path from day to day on the basis of currents, and more besides. With Jason-2, operational space oceanography is set to take a new leap forward. “Two satellites at the very least are required to drive a model like Mercator**,” says Philippe Escudier. “That’s why Jason-2 is vital to complement Jason-1 and Envisat already in orbit.” Acquiring more data over individual areas of interest will enable models to refine predictions.
Jason-2 is also paving the way for new applications by providing much more accurate data along coastlines and on lakes and rivers. “We will be able to keep a much closer eye on freshwater resources, which today are a crucial issue,”affirms Escudier.

Satellite altimetry is also entering a new dimension now that 2 operational agencies*** have joined the Jason-2 project with responsibility for delivering near-real-time operational data to users.

* CLS : Collecte, Localisation, Satellites
** Mercator Ocean is the global ocean prediction model used in France and Europe
*** Eumetsat (EUropean organisation for the exploitation of METeorological SATellites) and NOAA (U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration)

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