# an improved mapping method of multisatellite altimeter data

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522 VOLUME 15J O U R N A L O F A T M O S P H E R I C A N D O C E A N I C T E C H N O L O G Y

q 1998 American Meteorological Society

An Improved Mapping Method of Multisatellite Altimeter Data

P. Y. LE TRAON, F. NADAL, AND N. DUCET

CLSSpace Oceanography Division, Toulouse, France

(Manuscript received 16 October 1996, in final form 14 April 1997)

ABSTRACT

Objective analysis of altimetric data (sea level anomaly) usually assumes that measurement errors are wellrepresented by a white noise, though there are long-wavelength errors that are correlated over thousands ofkilometers along the satellite tracks. These errors are typically 3 cm rms for TOPEX/Poseidon (T/P), which isnot negligible in low-energy regions. Analyzing maps produced by conventional objective analysis thus revealsresidual long-wavelength errors in the form of tracks on the maps. These errors induce sea level gradientsperpendicular to the track and, therefore, high geostrophic velocities that can obscure ocean features. To overcomethis problem, an improved objective analysis method that takes into account along-track correlated errors isdeveloped. A specific data selection is used to allow an efficient correction of long-wavelength errors whileestimating the oceanic signal. The influence of data selection is analyzed, and the method is first tested withsimulated data. The method is then applied to real T/P and ERS-1 data in the Canary Basin (a region typicalof low eddy energy regions), and the results are compared to those of a conventional objective analysis method.The correction for the along-track long-wavelength error has a very significant effect. For T/P and ERS-1separately, the mapping difference between the two methods is about 2 cm rms (20% of the signal variance).The variance of the difference in zonal and meridional velocities is roughly 30% and 60%, respectively, of thevelocity signal variance. The effect is larger when T/P and ERS-1 are combined. Correcting the long-wavelengtherror also considerably improves the consistency between the T/P and ERS-1 datasets. The variance of thedifference (T/PERS-1) is reduced by a factor of 1.7 for the sea level, 1.6 for zonal velocities, and 2.3 formeridional velocities. The method is finally applied globally to T/P data. It is shown that it is tractable at theglobal scale and that it provides an improved mapping.

1. Introduction

Satellite altimeters provide sea surface height mea-surements with irregular spacetime sampling. Becausethe geoid is not known with sufficient accuracy, thesemeasurements are used to derive precise estimations ofthe sea level anomaly relative to a given mean. Griddedsea level anomaly data are generally used for signalanalysis, comparison with in situ measurements andmodels, and assimilation into models (e.g., Chao andFu 1995; Hernandez et al. 1995). This is particularlytrue in studies combining data from several satellites.Most of the methods commonly used to map altimeterdata (e.g., De Mey and Robinson 1987) are based onthe objective analysis (or optimal interpolation) method,first used in oceanography by Bretherton et al. (1976).Alternative approaches, such as successive correctionsor spline smoothing functions (e.g., Vasquez et al. 1990;Brankart and Brasseur 1996), are fairly similar to ob-jective analysis.

Corresponding author address: Dr. P. Y. Le Traon, CLSSpaceOceanography Division, 18, avenue Edouard Belin, 31055 ToulouseCedex, France.E-mail: Letraon@cls.cnes.fr

Objective analysis methods use an a priori statisticalknowledge on covariance functions of the signal to bemapped and of the data noise. They usually assumewhite measurement noise, though the error spectrum onthe altimeter measurements is far more complex. In par-ticular, there are long-wavelength errors (e.g., orbit er-ror, residual tidal correction, or inverse barometer er-rors) that are correlated over thousands of kilometersalong the satellite tracks. Before the TOPEX/Poseidon(T/P) altimetric mission, these errors, in particular orbiterror, were rather large and had to be removed usingpolynomial adjustment before analysis (e.g., Menard1983). With T/P this is no longer the case, as suchmethods affect the ocean signal and remove, in partic-ular, the large-scale ocean signal (e.g., Le Traon et al.1991; Tai 1991). Still, some residual long-wavelengtherrors remain in T/P data, typically on the order of 3cm rms (e.g., Fu et al. 1994). This is nonnegligible,especially in low-energy areas. Analyzing sea levelanomaly maps produced by objective analysis, assumingwhite noise, thus reveals residual long-wavelength er-rors in the form of tracks on the maps. These errorsinduce sea level gradients perpendicular to the track and,therefore, high geostrophic velocities that can obscureocean features (e.g., Mesias and Strub 1995). This be-comes crucial when data from various altimeter satel-

APRIL 1998 523L E T R A O N E T A L .

lites are combined, as the tracks are closer together andthe gradients steeper.

The aim of this study was to develop an objectiveanalysis method taking account of correlated along-track errors and thus enhance sea level anomaly map-ping from one or more altimeter satellites. Objectiveanalysis of altimeter data using correlated error was ini-tially discussed by Wunsch and Zlotnicki (1984) andhas led to a series of studies on the application of inversemethods to altimeter data (e.g., Mazzega and Houry1989). The main objective was to correct for rather largeorbit error while mapping the mean sea surface signalor the absolute sea surface topography (i.e., mainly thegeoid). The sea level anomaly mapping is a differentproblem. The signal is much weaker and residual long-wavelength errors (even of a few centimeters) cannotbe neglected. The mapping of a variable signal alsorequires much more efficient methods.

The paper is organized as follows. The objective anal-ysis method is described and tested in section 2. It isapplied at a regional scale to T/P and ERS-1 data insection 3 and at a global scale to T/P data in section 4.Conclusions and prospects appear in section 5.

2. Objective analysis

a. The method

The problem is to determine the value of a field u(here u is the sea level anomaly relative to a given mean)at a point in time and space, given various measurementsof the field unevenly spread over time and space ,F iobsi 5 1, . . . , n. The best least squares linear estimatoruest(x) is given by (Bretherton et al. 1976)

n n

21u (x) 5 A C F , (1)iO Oest ij xj obsi51 j51

with 5 Fi 1 i, where F i is the true value and iF iobsthe measurement error.

Here, A is the covariance matrix for the observationsthemselves, and C is the covariance vector for the ob-servations and the field to be estimated

A 5 ^F F & 5 ^F F & 1 ^ &i jtj obs obs i j i j

and C 5 ^u(x)F & 5 ^u(x)F &.ixi obs iThe associated error variance e2 is given by

n n

2 21e 5 C 2 C C A . (2)O Oxx xi xj iji51 j51

The measurement error is assumed to be uncorrelatedwith the signal. Here, A and C can also be defined towithin a constant factor [in Eq. (1)], and both are gen-erally normalized by the signal variance (e2 is thus givenin percentage of signal variance).

Objective analysis has been used in many altimetricapplications to map sea level variations from along-trackdata (e.g., De Mey and Robinson 1987; Hernandez et

al. 1995). Given the high number of altimetric mea-surements, the method is suboptimal: only usefuldata, that is, values close to the point to be estimated,are used. In practice, this comes down to selecting datain a spacetime subdomain. More sophisticated sortingmethods can also be used if needed (P. De Mey 1995,personal communication).

b. Long-wavelength errors

Various altimetry applications have taken account ofcorrelated noise in objective analysis (or in inversemethods), in particular for estimating orbit error or map-ping the geoid (e.g., Wunsch and Zlotnicki 1984; Maz-zega and Houry 1989; Blanc et al. 1995; Mazzega etal. 1998). This is done simply by modifying the errorcovariance ^ ij&.

The objective is to take into account an error corre-lation, along-track only, for a given cycle. The methodwill use observations in areas typically 10002000 kmin diameter, which are of smaller scales than those typ-ical of long-wavelength errors. The long-wavelength er-ror is therefore assumed constant along the tracks, thatis, ^ ij& can be expressed in the following form:

^ij& 5 dijb2 for points i, j not on the same trackor in the same cycle and

^ij& 5 dijb2 1 ELW for points i, j on the sametrack and in the same cycle,

where b2 is the variance of the white measurement noiseand ELW is the variance of the long-wavelength error.

This statistical description of the long-wavelength er-ror should reduce the relative between-track biases in agiven area and, therefore, reduce the inconsistencies be-tween adjacent or crossing tracks.

c. Selecting the data

Conventional objective analysis, that is, assuming un-correlated noise, only needs data in a small subdomainaround the point to be estimated. The size of the sub-domain corresponds roughly to the correlation scales ofthe ocean signal, that is, on the order of 100 km and10 days. If correlated noise is taken into account, largersubdomains are needed to properly distinguish betweenthe ocean signal and this long-wavelength error. Ideally,one would need to select all the data in areas severalthousand kilometers across. This is not possible becauseof the difficulty of inverting the covariance matrices (A).A specific method for selecting data has therefore beendeveloped. It proceeds as follows.

R Along-track sea level anomaly data are smoothed toreduce measurement noise and subsampled. Only use-ful observations are kept, and smoo

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