Oceanic Planetary Waves and Eddies: A Privileged View from Satellite Altimetry

  • Paolo Cipollini
  • Anna C. S. Sutcliffe
  • Ian S. Robinson


The accurate, sustained observations of meso- and large-scale features in the global sea surface height fields from satellite altimeters, made possible by the accuracy of the instruments flown since the early 1990 s, have been extremely successful for improving our knowledge on the characteristics of ocean dynamics at these scales. Here we review some of that success, including the confirmation that planetary (Rossby) waves are common in the ocean, albeit travelling faster than the classic theory predicted, which has stimulated a profound revision of the theoretical framework, and the recent global observations of mesoscale eddies, which account for a large percentage of the ocean surface variance. We also summarize some of the very intriguing questions that the altimetric observations have opened and that remain yet unsolved. These include both purely dynamical questions, like the existence of waveguides for energy propagation in the oceans or the decomposition of the propagating features into normal vertical modes, and questions arising from the concurrent observation of propagating signals in other data sets, like SST (important for the ocean/atmosphere coupling) and ocean colour (which could indicate a net effect on the global carbon cycle). We expect more surprises from the continuation and further improvement of the altimetric observations, already nearly two decades long, and their ever-growing integration with other satellite and in situ (especially ARGO) data.


Planetary Wave Ocean Colour Relative Vorticity Horizontal Advection Mesoscale Eddy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We are grateful to Jeff Blundell for his advice and for providing the theoretical speeds from the extended theory. The altimeter products were produced by SSALTO/DUACS and distributed by AVISO with support from CNES via the web site


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paolo Cipollini
    • 1
  • Anna C. S. Sutcliffe
    • 1
  • Ian S. Robinson
    • 1
  1. 1.Ocean Observing and Climate Research Group, National Oceanography CentreSouthamptonUK

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