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Satellite radar altimetry: past and future

27 September 2018

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Satellite radar altimetry measures the time taken by a radar pulse to travel from the satellite antenna to the surface and back to the satellite receiver. This measurement yields a wealth of information that can be used for a wide range of applications – in particular, for understanding sea-level rise.

While satellite instruments also measure ocean-surface temperature, chlorophyll concentrations and wind velocity, the real breakthrough in ocean observation has been satellite radar altimetry.

In 1969, at the Williamstown congress, the feasibility of a new discipline as space oceanography by radar instrumentation was discussed.

Satellite altimetry was initially designed to measure sea level by a combination of radar technique (used to measure the distance from the satellite to a reflecting surface) and a positioning technique (allowing a very precise location of the satellite on its orbit).

Source: ESA Earth Online

Image credit: CLS - Operating together - a combination of several satellites (Topex/Poseidon and ERS) allows a better observation of eddies in the Gulf Stream.

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