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Larry W. O’Neill
,
Dudley B. Chelton
,
Ernesto Rodríguez
,
Roger Samelson
, and
Alexander Wineteer

Abstract

We propose a method to reconstruct sea surface height anomalies (SSHA) from vector surface currents and winds. This analysis is motivated by the proposed satellite ODYSEA, which is a Doppler scatterometer that measures coincident surface vector winds and currents. If it is feasible to estimate SSHA from these measurements, then ODYSEA could provide collocated fields of SSHA, currents, and winds over a projected wide swath of ∼1700 km. The reconstruction also yields estimates of the low-frequency surface geostrophic, Ekman, irrotational, and nondivergent current components and a framework for separation of balanced and unbalanced motions. The reconstruction is based on a steady-state surface momentum budget including the Ekman drift, Coriolis acceleration, and horizontal advection. The horizontal SSHA gradient is obtained as a residual of these terms, and the unknown SSHA is solved for using a Helmholtz–Hodge decomposition given an imposed SSHA boundary condition. We develop the reconstruction using surface currents, winds, and SSHA off the U.S. West Coast from a 43-day coupled ROMS–WRF simulation. We also consider how simulated ODYSEA measurement and sampling errors and boundary condition uncertainties impact reconstruction accuracy. We find that temporal smoothing of the currents for periods of 150 h is necessary to mitigate large reconstruction errors associated with unbalanced near-inertial motions. For the most realistic case of projected ODYSEA measurement noise and temporal sampling, the reconstructed SSHA fields have an RMS error of 2.1 cm and a model skill (squared correlation) of 0.958 with 150-h resolution. We conclude that an accurate SSHA reconstruction is feasible using information measured by ODYSEA and external SSHA boundary conditions.

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