Tech Briefs

Estimating Sea Surface Salinity and Wind Using Combined Passive and Active L-Band Microwave Observations

Several L-band microwave radiometer and radar missions have been, or will be, operating in space for land and ocean observations. These include the NASA Aquarius mission and the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission, both of which use combined passive/active L-band instruments. Aquarius’s passive/active L-band microwave sensor has been designed to map the salinity field at the surface of the ocean from space. SMAP’s primary objectives are for soil moisture and freeze/thaw detection, but it will operate continuously over the ocean, and hence will have significant potential for ocean surface research.

In this innovation, an algorithm has been developed to retrieve simultaneously ocean surface salinity and wind from combined passive/active L-band microwave observations of sea surfaces. The algorithm takes advantage of the differing response of brightness temperatures and radar backscatter to salinity, wind speed, and direction, thus minimizing the least squares error (LSE) measure, which signifies the difference between measurements and model functions of brightness temperatures and radar backscatter. The algorithm uses the conjugate gradient method to search for the local minima of the LSE.

Three LSE measures with different measurement combinations have been tested. The first LSE measure uses passive microwave data only with retrieval errors reaching 1 to 2 psu (practical salinity units) for salinity, and 1 to 2 m/s for wind speed. The second LSE measure uses both passive and active microwave data for vertical and horizontal polarizations. The addition of active microwave data significantly improves the retrieval accuracy by about a factor of five. To mitigate the impact of Faraday rotation on satellite observations, the third LSE measure uses measurement combinations invariant under the Faraday rotation. For Aquarius, the expected RMS SSS (sea surface salinity) error will be less than about 0.2 psu for low winds, and increases to 0.3 psu at 25 m/s wind speed for warm waters (25 ºC).

To achieve the required 0.2 psu accuracy, the impact of sea surface roughness (e.g. wind-generated ripples) on the observed brightness temperature has to be corrected to better than one tenth of a degree Kelvin. With this algorithm, the accuracy of retrieved wind speed will be high, varying from a few tenths to 0.6 m/s. The expected direction accuracy is also excellent (<10°) for mid to high winds, but degrades for lower speeds (<7 m/s).

This work was done by Simon H. Yueh and Mario J. Chaubell of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . NPO-48097