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Lee-Lueng Fu, Tong Lee, W. Timothy Liu, and Ronald Kwok

Abstract

The development of the technologies of remote sensing of the ocean was initiated in the 1970s, while the ideas of observing the ocean from space were conceived in the late 1960s. The first global view from space revealed the expanse and complexity of the state of the ocean that had perplexed and inspired oceanographers ever since. This paper presents a glimpse of the vast progress made from ocean remote sensing in the past 50 years that has a profound impact on the ways we study the ocean in relation to weather and climate. The new view from space in conjunction with the deployment of an unprecedented amount of in situ observations of the ocean has led to a revolution in physical oceanography. The highlights of the achievement include the description and understanding of the global ocean circulation, the air–sea fluxes driving the coupled ocean–atmosphere system that is most prominently illustrated in the tropical oceans. The polar oceans are most sensitive to climate change with significant consequences, but owing to remoteness they were not accessible until the space age. Fundamental discoveries have been made on the evolution of the state of sea ice as well as the circulation of the ice-covered ocean. Many surprises emerged from the extraordinary accuracy and expanse of the space observations. Notable examples include the determination of the global mean sea level rise as well as the role of the deep ocean in tidal mixing and dissipation.

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