Over the past 3 decades, satellite altimetry has been a key tool for dynamic ocean studies and for accurately estimating sea surface heights. The geodetic reference surface—the “geoid”—can be approximated as the mean sea surface height of an ocean corrected for dynamic terms such as tides and currents. It is an equipotential surface of the gravity field; and variations of this field are quantified as free-air anomalies, from which density heterogeneities of the oceanic basement can be inferred.
Using such data in combination with other geophysical data, scientists have improved their knowledge of the nature of submarine relief and underlying structures. In solid Earth geophysics, major breakthroughs came from the development of high-resolution marine gravity models based on closely spaced altimetry profiles collected during the U.S. Navy's Geosat satellite geodetic mission (launched in 1985) and the first version of the European Remote Sensing satellite geodetic mission (ERS 1, launched in 1991). These were combined with other repetitive profiles from the international TOPEX/ POSEIDON satellite (launched in 1992); ERS 1; TOPEX/POSEIDON's successor, Jason (launched in 2001); and the European Space Agency's (ESA) Envisat missions (ERS's successors [see, e.g., Sandwell and Smith, 1997; Andersen and Knudsen, 1998]).
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