On the Ability of Synthetic Aperture Radar to Measure Ocean Waves
The SEASAT satellite system, using an onboard 23-cm-wavelength synthetic aperture radar (SAR), collected approximately 25- to 40-m-resolution radar images of the ocean in 100-km-wide swaths ranging in length from about 300 to 3000 km. Here we report results from the 18 SEASAT SAR passes during the Joint Air-Sea Interaction (JASIN) experiment conducted off the west coast of Scotland in the summer of 1978. These many SAR images, when coupled with the intensive ship, buoy, and aircraft measurements of the JASIN experiment, provide a unique opportunity to assess the ability of satellite SAR to measure ocean surface phenomena, particularly surface wave fields. In this study we use only optically processed SAR images. Although gravity waves of length approximately 80 to 300 m are often seen in SAR imagery, they are not always seen. We find that SAR resolution and wave height are important criteria for determining wave visibility and suggest that wind velocity is also. Comparisons between SAR and buoy estimates of dominant wavelength and direction (including data from several other experiments) agree to within about ±14% and ± 10°, respectively. We use a focus sharpness algorithm to resolve the 180° directional ambiguity of SAR image directional estimates. Correlation of buoy measurements of significant wave height (H 1/3) with peak signal- to-noise ratio in Fourier transforms of SAR images (r = 0.7) suggests that H 1/3 can be estimated to an accuracy of about ± 1 m. However, a similar, but weaker, correlation exists between signal-to-noise and wave length, i.e., H 1/3 and wavelength are correlated in the JASIN data set. SAR image power spectra are in rough agreement with buoy measurements of omnidirectional ocean wave height spectra Ψ(K) and correspond less closely with ocean wave slope spectra Ψ(K) However, the dominant wavenumber (Kpeak.) in SAR spectra typically falls below the dominant wavenumber of corresponding buoy spectra. Further, the slope of SAR spectra for K < K peak is typically steeper than corresponding buoy measurements of Ψ(K), while the slope of SAR spectra for K > K Peak is typically less steep than corresponding buoy spectra Ψ(K). These differences between SAR spectra and buoy measurements of form qualitative support for the imaging mechanisms developed by Alpers, Ross, and Rufenach. Analysis algorithms based on this theory, but including empirical modifications, should substantially improve estimates of Ψ (K,θ) using SAR images.
KeywordsWave Height Significant Wave Height Synthetic Aperture Radar Image Ocean Wave Synthetic Aperture Radar Data
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