New aircraft observations are presented on the range determination error in satellite altimetry associated with ocean waves. Laser-based measurements of the cross correlation between the gravity wave slope and elevation are reported for the first time. These observations provide direct access to a long, O(10 m), gravity wave statistic central to nonlinear wave theory prediction of the altimeter sea state bias. Coincident Ka-band radar scattering data are used to estimate an electromagnetic (EM) range bias analogous to that in satellite altimetry. These data, along with ancillary wind and wave slope variance estimates, are used alongside existing theory to evaluate the extent of long- versus short-wave, O(cm), control of the bias. The longer wave bias contribution to the total EM bias is shown to range from 25 to as much as 100%. Moreover, on average the term is linearly related to wind speed and to the gravity wave slope variance, consistent with WNL theory. The EM bias associated with interactions between long and short waves is obtained assuming the effect is additive to the independently observed long-wave factor. This second component is also a substantial contributor, is observed to be quadratic in wind speed or wave slope, and dominates at moderate wind speeds. The behavior is shown to be consistent with EM bias prediction based in hydrodynamic modulation theory. Study implications for improved correction of the on-orbit satellite sea state bias are discussed.

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Journal of Geophysical Reasearch: C Oceans


American Geophysical Union Publications

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