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02.04.2008 10:51 Age: 12 yrs

Altimetry applications in videos : Transport and safety

Category: Website updates

The ocean is a challenging environment for sailors. Satellite altimetry is an important source of data for sea state forecasting models.

See the Transport and safety video: flash (9 Mo) or mpeg (38 Mo)

The ocean is a challenging environment. Winds, waves and currents are sometimes described with menacing adjectives to describe sea states that are potentially hazardous to sailors navigating on the surface, such as squalls , cross seas, adverse and changing currents, breakers or rogue waves.  Reliable sea state forecasts, including wave height and direction and current velocity, are of great benefit to many maritime activities.

Satellite altimetry, through its systematic, global, homogeneous, all-weather coverage (uninterrupted even at night or in cloudy weather), is an important source of data for forecasting models.  The use of altimetry observations for determining sea surface height has now made it possible  to identify and measure the currents flowing around peaks and troughs in the sea surface.  From global ocean circulation to meso-scale circulation, it has thus become possible to plot maps of currents and measure their variations.  However, sea height is not the only variable likely to be useful as input for forecasting models, altimetry also provides other valuable information: the amplitude and the shape of the radar echo enable wind speed and wave height to be determined.  With the launching of the Jason-2 satellite in June 2008 new data will soon be available to further improve operational ocean forecasting systems.

In maritime transport or ocean yacht racing, forecasts of sea currents enable optimising of the vessel's route in terms of speed, fuel economy, stress on the boat's structure and even crew fatigue.  In the Gulf of Mexico the tanker BRO CATHERINE is currently navigating using route support data: in nearly five days it has cut four hours off its journey compared with the great circle route.

With regard to safety at sea, the model for forecasting oil slick drift (see altimetry applications in videos: Oil spill) can also be applied to search and rescue situations, saving rescue crews valuable time by guiding them directly to the estimated rescue sites, based on an analysis of how the shipwrecked sailors have drifted.  This has led the Canadian Coast Guard to modify its search and rescue software to incorporate data on surface currents from operational oceanography models.

Further information:

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