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Envisat altimeter watches Pacific for cold tongue of La Niña

an gather additional detail on La Nia as it occurs: Envisat's Advanced Along Track Scanning Radiometer (AATSR) can measure sea surface temperature (SST) to an accuracy of 0.2 C while the Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer on the same spacecraft monitors changes in ocean colour due to associated shifts in marine phytoplankton concentrations.

Through a lack of observational data, the scientific community found itself blindsided by the 1982-1983 El Nio, then regarded as the 'El Nio of the century'. Researchers' predictive ability was improved by the international Tropical Ocean-Global Atmosphere (TOGA) programme of 1985-1989, which set up the first in-situ observing system including the array of buoys that currently make up the TAO-TRITON network.

However this array was mostly concentrated in the equatorial Pacific, so from the early 1990s onward, radar altimeters flown on ERS-1 and TOPEX/Poseidon began to prove themselves valuable means of monitoring and analysing ENSO events on a wider scale. In particular, researchers are utilising altimetry data to monitor the exchange of warm water across the Pacific in order to evaluate different theories of the build-up to ENSO events.

ESA and altimetry

ESA has been flying radar altimeters in space ever since the launch of ERS-1 in 1991, amassing a continuous 15 year dataset that covers not only the global ocean but also freshwater bodies, land surfaces and the cryosphere. This archive will extend further into the future, with a radar altimeter set to be included on the Sentinel-3 mission planned to support operational oceanography services developed as part of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) initiative of the European Union and ESA.

A major scientific symposium concerning '15 Years of Progress in Radar Altimetry' is taking place in Venice Lido from 13 to 18 March 2006. Jointly sponsored by ESA and the French space agency CNES, the event will include
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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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