Marine Science Faculty Publications

Gravimetric Methods – Satellite Altimeter Measurements

Document Type

Book Chapter

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Calibration/validation, Gravity, Jason-1, Jason-2, Ocean Surface Topography Mission, Precise orbit determination, Satellite altimeter, Sea level, Sea state bias, TOPEX/Poseidon

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Satellite altimetry has become an important tool for studying the Earth's oceans. Here, we summarize the basic concepts of satellite radar altimeters, starting from how range is measured, how the precise orbit height is calculated, and how these are combined to determine sea surface height (SSH). Corrections needed to account for path delays of the radar pulse in the atmosphere and biases at the surface are also discussed. These include the ionosphere, wet troposphere, and dry troposphere atmospheric corrections and the sea state bias and inverted barometer surface corrections. The calibration and verification of the SSH measurement are explained, using specific examples from TOPEX/Poseidon, Jason-1, and Jason-2/Ocean Surface Topography Mission. We also comment on some geophysical applications of the altimeter measurement, including measuring the ocean geoid, bathymetry, and global mean sea level. In closing, we briefly discuss other types of satellite altimeters, including laser, delay-Doppler, and wide swath altimeters.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Gravimetric Methods – Satellite Altimeter Measurements, in G. Schubert (Ed.), Treatise on Geophysics (Second Edition), v. 3, Elsevier, p. 117-149