Articles | Volume 12, issue 3
Ocean Sci., 12, 647–662, 2016
Ocean Sci., 12, 647–662, 2016

Research article 13 May 2016

Research article | 13 May 2016

Analyses of altimetry errors using Argo and GRACE data

Jean-François Legeais, Pierre Prandi, and Stéphanie Guinehut Jean-François Legeais et al.
  • Collecte Localisation Satellites, Parc Technologique du canal, 8–10 rue Hermès, 31520 Ramonville Saint-Agne, France

Abstract. This study presents the evaluation of the performances of satellite altimeter missions by comparing the altimeter sea surface heights with in situ dynamic heights derived from vertical temperature and salinity profiles measured by Argo floats. The two objectives of this approach are the detection of altimeter drift and the estimation of the impact of new altimeter standards that requires an independent reference. This external assessment method contributes to altimeter calibration–validation analyses that cover a wide range of activities. Among them, several examples are given to illustrate the usefulness of this approach, separating the analyses of the long-term evolution of the mean sea level and its variability, at global and regional scales and results obtained via relative and absolute comparisons. The latter requires the use of the ocean mass contribution to the sea level derived from Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) measurements. Our analyses cover the estimation of the global mean sea level trend, the validation of multi-missions altimeter products as well as the assessment of orbit solutions.

Even if this approach contributes to the altimeter quality assessment, the differences between two versions of altimeter standards are getting smaller and smaller and it is thus more difficult to detect their impact. It is therefore essential to characterize the errors of the method, which is illustrated with the results of sensitivity analyses to different parameters. This includes the format of the altimeter data, the method of collocation, the temporal reference period and the processing of the ocean mass solutions from GRACE. We also assess the impact of the temporal and spatial sampling of Argo floats, the choice of the reference depth of the in situ profiles and the importance of the deep steric contribution. These analyses provide an estimation of the robustness of the method and the characterization of associated errors. The results also allow us to draw some recommendations to the Argo community regarding the maintenance of the in situ network.

Short summary
Sea level is a key indicator of climate change and has been monitored by satellite altimetry for more than 2 decades. The evaluation of the performances of the altimeter missions can be performed by comparison with in situ-independent measurements from Argo profiling floats. This allows for the detection of altimeter drift and the estimation of the impact of a new altimeter standard. This study aims at characterizing the errors of the method thanks to sensitivity analyses to different parameters.