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Satellites shed light on global warming

el slowly across the oceanic basins influencing the major oceanic currents and are believed to play a role in the complex ‘planetary clock?that triggers one of the major climatic anomalies ?El Niño.

"These waves are an important means of ocean adjustment to forcing. In a sense they ‘set the rhythm?for some aspects of the interactions between oceans and climate. Faster waves in a warmer ocean, as an effect of climate change, may result in complex repercussions on the climate system, many of which could turn out to accelerate the change," Dr Paolo Cipollini of the National Oceanography Centre in the UK said.

Cipollini illustrated the role satellite instruments have played in understanding these elusive waves. He pointed out that although they were theorised to have existed as far back as the 1930s, it was not until the advent of the satellite-borne radar altimeter that oceanographers were able to offer proof of their existence by mapping the sea surface height and seeing them move by following the measurements of the surface.

Radar altimeters work by sending thousands of separate radar pulses down to Earth per second then recording how long their echoes take to bounce back to the satellite platform. The sensor times its pulses' journey down to under a nanosecond to calculate the distance to the planet below to a maximum accuracy of two centimetres. ESA has had radar altimeters in orbit since July 1991, when ERS-1 was launched, which was followed by ERS-2 in 1995 and Envisat in 2002 and will continue to launch radar altimeters with CryoSat planned for 2009 and Sentinel-3 planned for 2012.

According to Cipollini, these waves have been recently observed to alter the colour of the sea, therefore they are believed to have some effect on phytoplankton ?the tiny chlorophyll-pigmented algal cells that populate the oceans in huge numbers and play a leading role in the global carbon cycle and the primary production of nutrients. '"/>

Source:European Space Agency


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