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Envisat and ERS-2 reveal hidden side of Hurricane Rita

As Hurricane Rita entered the Gulf of Mexico, ESA's Envisat satellite's radar was able to pierce through swirling clouds to directly show how the storm churns the sea surface. This image has then been used to derive Rita's wind field speeds.

Envisat acquired this Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) image at 0344 UTC on 22 September (2345 on 21 September in US Eastern Daylight Saving Time), when Hurricane Rita was passing west of Florida and Cuba. The image was acquired in Wide Swath Mode with resolution of 150 metres. Envisat's optical Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) is also being used to observe the storm during daylight, returning details of its cloud structure and pressure.

Notably large waves are seen around the eye of Hurricane Rita in the radar image. ASAR measures the backscatter, which is a measure of the roughness of the ocean surface. On a basic level, bright areas of the radar image mean higher backscatter due to surface roughness. This roughness is strongly influenced by the local wind field so that the radar backscatter can be used in turn to measure the wind.

So the Center for Southeastern Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing at the University of Miami used this ASAR image to calculate the speed of Hurricane Rita's surface wind fields ?showing maximum wind speeds in excess of 200 kilometres per hour.

"The most detailed information about hurricane dynamics and characteristics are obtained from dedicated flights by hurricane hunter aircraft," explains Hans Graber of CSTARS. "However these flight missions cannot always take place. Satellite remote sensing provides a critical alternative approach.

"It is critical for weather forecasters to obtain reliable characterization of the eye wall dimension and the radii of gale- tropical storm- and hurricane-force winds in order to provide skilful forecasts and warning. Satellite based observations will facilitate better understanding of hurricane evoluti
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Source:European Space Agency


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