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Ocean Surface Topography from Space
Hurricane Studies with Altimeter Data
Philip Callahan
(California Institute of Technology - JPL)

Ernesto Rodriguez
(California Institute of Technology - JPL)
Image (left): Hurricane Flossie's cloud information (gray scale), with altimetric SWH (numbers along the track). Image (right): Wave height data from the U.K. Met office compared against Jason-1 SWH data. Figures courtesy of M. Willis, NOAA-NHC-FAPB.
Larger image with caption


We are extracting altimeter data for each tropical storm where QuikSCAT reprocessed data is available and are using it to study air-sea interactions and to characterize hurricane effects that may be of both scientific and operational use. From the altimeter records we use Ku and C band significant wave height and sigma0 data, skewness data from retracking records, along with radiometer measurements and atmospheric model fields. Where QuikSCAT data are also available they provide measurements of sigma0 as well as wind speed and direction. We are investigating scatterometer and altimeter measurement effects both statistically and by case studies. We want to derive operationally useful methods for improving storm forecasting and assessment. Topics to be investigated include:

  • air-sea interaction, particularly the altimeter's ability to measure spray/spume and the development of hurricanes;
  • the effect of wave height on scatterometer measurements;
  • rain effects.

If additional data types such as sea surface temperature, ocean heat content, other radiometer data, or model information are available along with the QuikSCAT data, we will also use those in investigating some of these effects.


  • improved understanding of the measurement and effects of spray/spume in tropical storms;
  • improved understanding of changes in small scale surface roughness around tropical storms;
  • improved understanding of the effect of rain on both scatterometer data (a significant error source) and altimetry.

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