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  • Author or Editor: Armin Köhl x
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Detlef Stammer
Armin Köhl
, and
Carl Wunsch


The impact of new geoid height models on estimates of the ocean circulation, now available from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) spacecraft, is assessed, and the implications of far more accurate geoids, anticipated from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gravity and Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) mission, are explored. The study is based on several circulation estimates obtained over the period 1992–2002 by combining most of the available ocean datasets with a global general circulation model on a 1° horizontal grid and by exchanging only the EGM96 geoid model with two different geoid models available from GRACE. As compared to the EGM96-based solution, the GRACE geoid leads to an estimate of the ocean circulation that is more consistent with the Levitus temperature and salinity climatology. While not a formal proof, this finding supports the inference of a substantially improved GRACE geoid skill. However, oceanographic implications of the GRACE model are only modest compared to what can be obtained from ocean observations alone. To understand the extent to which this is merely a consequence of a not-optimally converged solution or if a much more accurate geoid field could in principle play a profound role in the ocean estimation procedure, an additional experiment was performed in which the geoid error was artificially reduced relative to all other datasets. Adjustments occur then in all elements of the ocean circulation, including 10% changes in the meridional overturning circulation and the corresponding meridional heat transport in the Atlantic. For an optimal use of new geoid fields, improved error information is required. The error budget of existing time-mean dynamic topography estimates may now be dominated by residual errors in time-mean altimetric corrections. Both these and the model errors need to be better understood before improved geoid estimates can be fully exploited. As is commonly found, the Southern Ocean is of particular concern.

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