Scientists Produce New Map of Ocean Currents

Scientists Produce New Map of Ocean Currents

Nov 27, 2014 by

An international group of scientists using data from ESA’s Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) has created the most accurate map of ocean currents to date.

The ocean currents and their speeds, in cm/s, derived from GOCE data. Image credit: ESA / CNES / CLS.

The GOCE satellite is the first space mission to employ ‘gradiometry,’ the measurement of gravitational differences between an ensemble of test masses inside the satellite.

It was developed by an industrial consortium of 45 companies distributed over 13 European countries, and embodied many world-firsts in its design and use of new technology in space to map Earth’s gravity field in unprecedented detail.

In order to achieve its very challenging mission objectives, the octagonal, 1,100-kg, 5-meter-long satellite was orbiting at a height of just 260 km, because the gravitational variations are stronger closer to Earth.

On 21 October 2013, the mission came to an end when it ran out of fuel. Three weeks later, the satellite disintegrated in the lower atmosphere.

Although its flight is over, the wealth of data continues to be exploited to improve our understanding of ocean circulation, sea level, ice dynamics and Earth’s interior.

Using GOCE and ground data, Dr Marie-Hélène Rio from the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate of the Italian National Research Council and her colleagues have produced the most comprehensive map of ocean currents to date.

“The accurate estimate of ocean surface currents, as provided today by the combination of GOCE and altimetry data, is crucial for the better understanding of the ocean dynamics,” Dr Rio said.

“In particular, the assimilation of this information into operational ocean monitoring and forecasting systems will provide highly valuable new insight into the present and future state of the ocean.”

The new map is just one of many GOCE results presented November 25, 2014 at the 5th International GOCE User Workshop in Paris, France.

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