Date of Award

Spring 2005

Project Type


Program or Major

Earth Sciences: Oceanography

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Janet Campbell


This work mines a coastal and open ocean air-sea interaction field experiment data set where the goals are to refine satellite retrieval of wind, wind stress, and sea level using a microwave radar altimeter. The data were collected from a low-flying aircraft using a sensor suite designed to measure the surface waves, radar backscatter, the atmospheric flow, and turbulent fluxes within the marine boundary layer. This uncommon ensemble provides the means to address several specific altimeter-related topics. First, we examine and document the impact that non wind-driven gravity wave variability, e.g. swell, has upon the commonly-invoked direct relationship between altimeter backscatter and near surface wind speed. The demonstrated impact is larger in magnitude and more direct than previously suggested. The study also isolates the wind-dependence of short-scale slope variance and suggests its magnitude is somewhat lower than shown elsewhere while a second-order dependence on long waves is also evident.

A second study assesses the hypothesis that wind-aligned swell interacts with the atmospheric boundary flow leading to a depressed level of turbulence. Cases of reduced drag coefficient at moderate wind speeds were in evidence within the data set, and buoy observations indicate that swell was present and a likely control during these events. Coincidentally, short-scale wave roughness was also depressed suggesting decreased wind stress. Attempts to confirm the theory failed, however, due to numerous limitations in the quantity and quality of the data in hand. A lesson learned is that decoupling atmospheric stability and wave impacts in field campaigns requires both a very large amount of data as well as vertical resolution of fluxes within the first 10--20 m of the surface.