Date of Award

Spring 2012

Project Type


Program or Major

Earth and Environmental Science: Oceanography

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Douglas Vandemark


Ocean vector wind measurements produced by satellite scatterometers are used in many applications across many disciplines, from forcing ocean circulation models and improving weather forecasts, to aiding in rescue operations and helping marine management services, and even mapping energy resources. However, a scatterometer does not in fact measure wind directly; received radar backscatter is proportional to the roughness of the ocean's surface, which is primarily modified by wind speed and direction. As scatterometry has evolved in recent decades, highly calibrated geophysical model functions have been designed to transform this received backscatter into vector winds. Because these products are used in so many applications, it is crucial to understand any limitations of this process. For instance, a number of assumptions are routinely invoked when interpreting scatterometer retrievals in areas of complex air-sea dynamics without, perhaps, sufficient justification from supporting observations.

This dissertation uses satellite data, in situ measurements, and model simulations to evaluate these assumptions. Robustness is assured by using multiple types of satellite scatterometer data from different sensors and of different resolutions, including an experimental ultra-high resolution product that first required validation in the region of study. After this validation survey, a subsequent investigation used the multiple data resolutions to focus on the influence of ocean surface currents on scatterometer retrievals. Collocated scatterometer and buoy wind data along with buoy surface current measurements support the theory that scatterometer winds respond to the relative motion of the ocean surface; in other words, that they can effectively be considered current-relative, as has been generally assumed. Another major control on scatterometer retrievals is atmospheric stability, which affects both surface roughness and wind shear. A study using wind, stress, temperature, and pressure measurements at a mooring in the Gulf Stream as well as collocated scatterometer data proved that the scatterometer responds as expected to changes in stability. Therefore, scatterometer retrievals can effectively be used to evaluate changes in wind due to speed adjustment over temperature fronts. Given the conclusions of these individual studies, this work collectively solidifies decades of theory and validates the use of scatterometer winds in areas of complex air-sea interaction.