From satellite altimetry to Argo and operational oceanography: three revolutions in oceanography
- Ifremer and Mercator Ocean, 8–10 rue Hermés – Parc Technologique du Canal, 31520 Ramonville, St. Agne, France
- *Invited contribution by P. Y. Le Traon, recipient of the EGU Fridtjof Nansen Medal 2012.
Abstract. The launch of the French/US mission Topex/Poseidon (T/P) (CNES/NASA) in August 1992 was the start of a revolution in oceanography. For the first time, a very precise altimeter system optimized for large-scale sea level and ocean circulation observations was flying. T/P alone could not observe the mesoscale circulation. In the 1990s, the ESA satellites ERS-1/2 were flying simultaneously with T/P. Together with my CLS colleagues, we demonstrated that we could use T/P as a reference mission for ERS-1/2 and bring the ERS-1/2 data to an accuracy level comparable to T/P. Near-real-time high-resolution global sea level anomaly maps were then derived. These maps have been operationally produced as part of the SSALTO/DUACS system for the last 15 yr. They are now widely used by the oceanographic community and have contributed to a much better understanding and recognition of the role and importance of mesoscale dynamics. Altimetry needs to be complemented with global in situ observations. At the end of the 90s, a major international initiative was launched to develop Argo, the global array of profiling floats. This has been an outstanding success. Argo floats now provide the most important in situ observations to monitor and understand the role of the ocean on the earth climate and for operational oceanography. This is a second revolution in oceanography. The unique capability of satellite altimetry to observe the global ocean in near-real-time at high resolution and the development of Argo were essential for the development of global operational oceanography, the third revolution in oceanography. The Global Ocean Data Assimilation Experiment (GODAE) was instrumental in the development of the required capabilities. This paper provides an historical perspective on the development of these three revolutions in oceanography which are very much interlinked. This is not an exhaustive review and I will mainly focus on the contributions we made together with many colleagues and friends.