21 Feb 2022
21 Feb 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal OS.

Assessment of the observability of coastal currents in LRM and SAR altimetry observations: a north-western Mediterranean Sea case study

Alice Carret1,2, Florence Birol1, Claude Estournel1, and Bruno Zakardjian3 Alice Carret et al.
  • 1LEGOS, Université de Toulouse-CNES-CNRS-IRD, OMP, 14 Av. E. Belin, 31400 Toulouse, France
  • 2SERCO, Via Sciadonna 24-26, Frascati, Rome, Italy
  • 3Université de Toulon, CNRS/INSU, IRD, Mediterranean Institute of Oceanography (MIO), UM 110, 83957 La Garde, France

Abstract. Over the last three decades, satellite altimetry has observed Sea Surface Height variations, providing a regular monitoring of the ocean circulation. Altimetry measurements have an intrinsic signal-to-noise ratio that strongly limits the space scales, and then the geophysical information that can be captured with this instrument. However, the recent progress made on both altimetry sensors and data processing, offers new perspectives in terms of research-oriented and operational applications. In this paper we present a methodological study that helps to better quantify the impact of this progress in terms of coastal circulation.

We focus on a case study: the Northern Current, a narrow slope current (less than 60 km wide) located in the North Western Mediterranean Sea. We first use a high resolution numerical model validated with HF radars and underwater glider data to define the general characteristics of the Northern Current in terms of surface velocity and sea surface height signature. These characteristics are then compared with corresponding estimates of sea surface height velocity derived from 1-Hz altimetry data sets from three missions: Jason 2 (Ku-band LRM), SARAL (Ka-band LRM) and Sentinel-3A (SAR). The data from all missions were processed with the coastal-specific X-TRACK strategy.

We show that near Toulon, the model is very close to the observations in terms of current estimates, providing a very good reference for altimetry data located in this area. The Northern Current is observed 15 km to the coast on average, with a mean core velocity of 0.44 m s−1. Its signature in sea level consists of a drop whose mean value at 6.14° E is 6.9 +/− 2.2 cm extending over 18 +/− 4 km. These variations show a clear seasonal pattern, but high frequency signals are also present most of the time. In 1-Hz altimetry data, the mean sea level drop associated with the Northern Current is overestimated by 3.6 cm for Jason 2, 0.3 cm for SARAL and 1.4 cm for Sentinel-3A. In terms of corresponding sea level variability, Jason 2 and SARAL altimetry estimates are larger than the model reference (+1.3 cm and +1 cm, respectively) whereas Sentinel-3A shows closer values (−0.4 cm). Without any sea level data filtering, the standard deviation of altimetry-derived velocity values is 3.7, 2.4 and 2.9 times too large for Jason-2, SARAL and Sentinel-3A, respectively. When filtering sea level data, the distribution of altimetry velocities tends to converge towards the model reference with a 50-km, 30-km and 40-km cutoff wavelength for Jason-2, SARAL and Sentinel-3A data, respectively.

Alice Carret et al.

Status: open (until 25 Sep 2022)

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  • RC1: 'Comment on os-2022-8', Anonymous Referee #1, 28 Mar 2022 reply

Alice Carret et al.

Alice Carret et al.


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Short summary
This study presents a methodology to investigate the ability of satellite altimetry to observe a coastal current, the Northern Current, in the NW Mediterannean Sea. We use a high resolution regional model, validated with HF radars and in situ data. The model is then used as a reference and compared to 3 different missions (Jason 2, SARAL and Sentinel-3), studying both the surface velocity and the sea surface height signature of the current. The performance of the 3 missions was also compared.