Can a new satellite concept make us better prepared for accidents at sea?

Publication in Ocean Science with five co-authors from the Nansen Center: "Measuring currents, ice drift, and waves from space: the Sea surface KInematics Multiscale monitoring (SKIM) concept"

There are times when detailed and accurate observations of surface currents can be critically important, for example in case of oil spills at sea or airplane accidents: it took as much as two years to find the black box of the Rio-Paris AF447 which crashed at sea in 2009, a lot of time and searching efforts could have been spared if there had been dense observations of ocean currents near the crash site. 

NERSC has contributed to propose a new satellite mission that has been selected by ESA as a candidate for the 9th Earth Explorer mission. SKIM aims to measure surface currents, ice drift and ocean waves at spatial scales of 40 km and more, with snapshots at least every day for latitudes 75 to 82N, and every few days for other latitudes. The SKIM mission (Surface KInematic Multiscale monitoring) will use a rotating Ka-band Doppler radar with incidence angles of 6 and 12 deg, allowing for measurement of the directional wave spectrum. The instrument proposed can reveal features of tropical ocean and marginal ice zone (MIZ) dynamics that are inaccessible to other measurement systems, and provide global monitoring of the ocean mesoscale that surpasses the capability of to-day’s nadir altimeters. Measuring ocean wave properties has many applications, including examining wave–current interactions, air–sea fluxes, the transport and convergence of marine plastic debris and assessment of marine and coastal hazards.

The data will be useful for assimilation into the TOPAZ forecasting system and the neXtSIM sea ice model. The planning and construction of the new satellite are time consuming and the launch will probably not take place before 2023.

Citation: Ardhuin, F., Aksenov, Y., Benetazzo, A., Bertino, L., Brandt, P., Caubet, E., Chapron, B., Collard, F., Cravatte, S., Delouis, J.-M., Dias, F., Dibarboure, G., Gaultier, L., Johannessen, J.Korosov, A., Manucharyan, G., Menemenlis, D., Menendez, M., Monnier, G., Mouche, A., Nouguier, F., Nurser, G., Rampal, P., Reniers, A., Rodriguez, E., Stopa, J., Tison, C., Ubelmann, C., van Sebille, E., and Xie, J.: Measuring currents, ice drift, and waves from space: the Sea surface KInematics Multiscale monitoring (SKIM) concept, Ocean Sci., 14, 337-354,, 2018.