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Envisat altimeter watches Pacific for cold tongue of La Niña

e of the main reasons why: warm water masses can stand up to a metre higher than the surrounding sea. Satellite radar altimeters measure sea surface height down to a maximum accuracy of two centimetres.

Instruments such as the Radar Altimeter-2 (RA-2) on ESA's Envisat bounce 1800 radar pulses per second off the Earth's surface, measuring their return time to the nanosecond to calculate the precise signal distance travelled. The data returned over the open ocean helps to chart changes in sea surface temperature (SST). Altimetry data from Envisat and its predecessor mission ERS-2 are made available in near-real time, then blended with altimetry results from the French/US Jason-1 mission and the US GFO to ensure the best possible global ocean coverage.

Current altimetry-derived sea level anomaly measurements show differences in SSH of 60 cm between the west and east Pacific. This wide-area view provided by altimetry-derived sea level anomaly data complements other in-situ sources, including the 70 buoys of the Tropical Ocean Atmosphere (TAO) array across the equatorial Pacific, operated by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the TRIangle Trans-Ocean buoy Network (TRITON) array operated by Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Technology and also the more than 2000 global Argo profiling floats, which provide temperature and salinity profiles at various depths across the global ocean.

These results are then assimilated into sophisticated numerical models by weather centres worldwide, including the Reading-based European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF) to help provide 'initial state' information to make seasonal forecasts of ocean states. The US NOAA Climate Prediction Center at the start of February announced that the conditions for a weak La Nia are in place - with central Pacific SST departing more than 0.5 C for the last three months - and the event is likely to last into late sprin
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Contact: Mariangela D'Acunto
mariangela.dacunto@esa.int
39-069-418-0856
European Space Agency
3-Mar-2006


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