On the Transition from Profile Altimeter to Swath Altimeter for Observing Global Ocean Surface Topography

Conventional radar altimeter makes measurement of sea surface height (SSH) in one-dimensional profiles along the ground tracks of a satellite. Such profiles are combined via various mapping techniques to construct two-dimensional SSH maps, providing a valuable data record over the past two decades for studying the global ocean circulation and sea level change. However, the spatial resolution of the SSH is limited by both coarse sampling across the satellite tracks and the instrument error in the profile measurements. A new satellite mission based on radar interferometry offers the capability of making high-resolution wide-swath measurement of SSH. This mission is called Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT), which will demonstrate the application of swath altimeter to both oceanography and land hydrology. This paper presents a brief introduction to the design of SWOT, its performance specification for SSH, and the anticipated spatial resolution and coverage, demonstrating the promise of SWOT for fundamental advancement in observing SSH. A main objective of the paper is to address issues in the anticipated transition of conventional profile altimetry to swath altimetry in the future\textemdashin particular, the need for consistency of the new observing system with the old for extending the existing data record into the future. A viable approach is to carry a profile altimeter in the SWOT payload to provide calibration and validation of the new measurement against the old at large scales. This is the baseline design of SWOT. The unique advantages of the approach are discussed in the context of a new standard for observing the global SSH in the future.
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Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology
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