Observing Oceanic Submesoscale Processes From Space

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Abstract

Observations made by satellite altimeters since the 1980s have provided progressively improved views of the global ocean mesoscale eddy field, which contains most of the kinetic energy of the ocean circulation. Along with these improved views, ocean models have progressed from coarseresolution, highly dissipative mesh grids to higher resolutions where mesoscale eddies dominate the model simulations. We are now able to produce simulations of the present state of the ocean that compare increasingly well with observations. However, the skill of these models in making long-range predictions of the ocean is still very limited, because the models lack a physically based representation of the submesoscales, i.e., scales of 1100 kilometers, that are important for turbulent transport and energy dissipation. Ocean models running at sufficient resolutions to address submesoscale dynamics have just recently begun to emerge [e.g., Capet et al., 2008], but we need global observations at these scales to guide the model development.

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