Science Meetings

The Ups and Downs of Measuring Sea Surface Salinity from Space
Banks, C.J., Gommenginger, C.P., Srokosz, M.A., and Snaith, H.M. (03-Dec-12)

In November 2009, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) satellite and a new era of satellite oceanography began vastly improving our ability to synoptically measure sea surface salinity (SSS). SMOS was joined in June 2011 by the NASA/Argentine Aquarius/SAC-D mission designed specifically to measure SSS. Although there are significant differences in how both satellites retrieve SSS, both utilise passive systems to measure the response of the brightness temperature (Tb) at L-band (1.4 GHz).

We report on-going investigations into the validation of SMOS and Aquarius 'Level 3' measurements of SSS using monthly data on a 1° by 1° global grid between 60°S and 60°N. Previous studies have indicated significant temporally varying differences between SSS from SMOS ascending passes and from SMOS descending passes: therefore, for both SMOS and Aquarius, data from ascending and descending passes will be studied separately. Both satellites have sun-synchronous orbits but the direction of travel for the two satellites are twelve hours out of phase (i.e. at approximately 6 a.m. local time SMOS is travelling south-to-north (ascending) and Aquarius is travelling north-to-south (descending) whereas at 6 p.m. the directions of travel are switched).

For validation purposes two separate monthly, 1° by 1° datasets are used over the same locations as the satellite data. The first is based on averaged near-surface salinity (depth less than 10 m) as derived from the drifting Argo float programme. The second validation data source is output from the UK Met Office Forecasting Ocean Assimilation Model (FOAM) based on NEMO (Nucleus for European Modelling of the Ocean).

The SMOS Level 3 products are developed from ESA Level 2 products after quality control (QC) based on flags and SSS error provided in the ESA Level 2 products. Aquarius data (QC) is based only on data flags and a simple selection of in-range SSS values ([30, 40]). The study is based on monthly products over the period from September 2011 to May 2012.

We calculate maps of the difference between each possible pair of SSS datasets for each month, and consider their relationships using regression on the 1° values. The analysis is carried out for the global ocean, as well as for smaller, more homogeneous, study regions (e.g. SPURS). In addition, a study is made of the differences and similarities, at Level 2, between the two satellites and the direction of travel.