Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans

Whitecap coverage from satellite measurements: A first step toward modeling the variability of oceanic whitecaps



[1] We present estimates of whitecap coverage on a global scale from satellite-measured brightness temperature of the ocean surface. This is a first step in a larger framework aiming at more realistic modeling of the high variability of whitecap coverage as a function of wind speed and a suite of additional environmental and meteorological factors. The involvement of oceanic whitecaps in various physical and chemical processes important for climate studies such as production of sea-salt aerosols, enhancement of air-sea gas exchange, and influence on retrievals of ocean surface wind and ocean color motivates this effort. A critical review of the physical variables causing the high variability of whitecap coverage and existing approaches modeling this variability establishes the need for a database of whitecap coverage and concomitant measurements of additional factors. The necessity to build such an extensive database justifies the quest for a method estimating whitecap coverage from satellite data. We describe the physical concept, a possible implementation, error analysis, results, and evaluation of a method for estimating whitecap coverage from routine satellite measurements. The advantages of the concept and the drawbacks and necessary improvements of the implementation are discussed.