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Ocean Surface Topography from Space
Operational Ocean Circulation Monitoring for the Study of Mesoscale Dynamics
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Robert Leben
(University of Colorado at Boulder)

George Born
(University of Colorado at Boulder)


Mesoscale eddies are the most energetic component of the ocean's general circulation, ranging in diameter from tens to hundreds of kilometers. In an analogy to the atmosphere, mesoscale eddies are the storms and weather systems of the Earth's oceans - the "ocean weather". Just as atmospheric weather affects almost every terrestrial activity, mesoscale eddies affect day-to-day activities in the upper ocean environment. During the TOPEX/Poseidon mission, we developed a near real-time altimeter data system to process and post maps of sea level variations associated with mesoscale eddies and fronts. This system has operated continuously since 1996 and is used for a wide variety of web-based operational, scientific, educational, and outreach activities. We will continue operation of this system while performing basic research to assess and improve high-resolution ocean products for mesoscale monitoring. A quantitative assessment will be made using an objective census of the population, structure, and distribution of mesoscale eddies as resolved in the current generation of altimeter products. This census data will be used to better understand the limitations of current products at mesoscale wavelengths and to develop improved altimeter products for the operational and scientific communities. Altimeter products will be developed and tested with the goal of producing new operational and research data sets with improved depictions of the mesoscale eddy field. Robust processing improvements will be incorporated in the near real-time data system to improve operational monitoring of the ocean mesoscale. More complete knowledge of the distribution and movement of ocean eddies will lead to a better understanding of the role mesoscale circulation plays in the ocean's general circulation and biogeochemistry, both of which affect the daily activities of humans and marine fauna in the local ocean environment and, to an unknown extent, the Earth's climate system.

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