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Ocean Surface Topography from Space

Science Objectives
Science Objectives
Science objectives for NASA's ocean altimetry missions and beyond
Data provider logos
Science Data Providers
Partner agencies who provide data from NASA and other altimeter missions.
El Niño/La Niña and PDO
El Niño/La Niña & PDO
Links related to El Niño/La Niña and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation
Societal Benefits
Societal Benefits
Society benefits from ocean altimetry data
Literature Database
Literature Database
A searchable database of ocean surface topography-related published works
Science Team
Science Team
Read about ocean altimetry science and the researchers on the science team
Monthly Time Series
Monthly Time Series
A side-by-side look at sea surface height and sea surface temperature anomalies

To gather long-term information about the world's oceans and currents, orbiting instruments must take extremely precise measurements of the height of the ocean surface - commonly called sea level - above the center of the Earth. This is referred to as ocean surface topography; not to be confused with bathymetry, which is the topographic relief on the bottom of the ocean. Ocean surface topography data contains information that has significant practical applications in such areas as the study of worldwide weather and climate patterns, the monitoring of shoreline evolution, and the protection of our great ocean fisheries. There are many scientists studying this information.

Ocean topography missions like Jason-1 and OSTM/Jason-2 seek to satisfy the following science goals:

  • To determine general ocean circulation, and to understand its role in the Earth's climate, and its hydrological and biogeochemical cycles.
  • To study the variation of ocean circulation on time scales from seasonal and annual to decadal and the effects on climate change.
  • To collaborate with other global ocean monitoring programs to produce routine models of the global ocean for scientific and operational applications.
  • To study large-scale ocean tides.
  • To study geophysical processes from their effects on ocean surface topography.

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