Organization: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Research Title: Physical Oceanography & Ocean Modeling

Funding Level (millions of dollars):

FY94 3.7
FY95 9.0
FY96 7.0

Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) Component:
(a) Subcommittee: Global Change Research Subcommittee (95%) Water Resources/Coastal and Marine Environments Research Subcommittee (5%) Task Group on Observations & Data Management
(b) Environmental Issue: Global change: exploratory research with a broad focus on the ocean environment (65%) Natural variability, including seasonal-to-interannual forecasting as well as past and future changes in climate (35%)
(c) Research Activity: System structure and function: Understanding (100%)

Organizational Component:
Science Division
Office of Mission to Planet Earth
NASA Headquarters
Washington, DC 20546

Point of Contact:
Donna Blake
Phone: 202-358-4540

Research Goals:
To improve understanding of ocean processes with a major emphasis on developing validated data sets from space-borne ocean observations that will be used to quantitatively measure climate variations.

Research Description:
The NASA Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE) Physical Oceanography Program has three coordinated areas designed to determine the transport of heat, momentum, salt, and fresh water in the ocean and through the air/sea interface as well as a component designed to improve future observing systems.

Ocean Circulation. (50%): Altimeter measurements offer the only global observations of the ocean circulation. The very high resolution TOPEX/Poseidon measurements are being used to study climate variability in the tropics, Arctic basin, and in the coastal boundary current regions and to investigate the thermohaline circulation, a major aspect of long-term climate change.

Air/Sea Fluxes. (25%): Measurements of air/sea fluxes are required for ocean global/regional climate models. At present, the predictive capability of couple climate models is limited because they do not give correct air/sea fluxes. The parameters need to determine the global air/sea fluxes are being determined from the space- based observations.

Mean Sea Level Change. (5%): Long term changes in the mean sea level are a measure of global warming or cooling. As satellites have only a 5-7 year lifetime, techniques are being developed to link the observations from different satellites.

Technology and Algorithm Development. (20%): Continual development is needed to produce the future satellite instruments and to improve the quality of present observations by removing biases and errors.

Program Interfaces:
This research program is part of the NASA MTPE program to improve understanding of all physical climate processes. Interfaces include: Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) Subcommittee on Global Change; Observations and Data Management Working Group; United States Global Change Research Program - USGCRP; Tropical Ocean- Global Atmosphere - TOGA; Global Ocean-Atmosphere-Land System - GOALS; Global Ocean Observing System - GOOS; World Climate Research Programme - WCRP; World Ocean Climate Experiment - WOCE; Climate Variability and Predictability Program - CLIVAR Also, international TOGA; Earth Observing System Distributed Information System - EOSDIS; Physical Oceanography Distributed Active Archive Center - PO.DAAC

Program Milestones:
a) Analysis of the first two years of TOPEX/POSEIDON data have produced the first synoptic maps of the large-scale general ocean circulation. (b) The eastward advance of an equatorial Kelvin wave, which signals the onset of El Niño, was observed in the TOPEX/POSEIDON data. (c) The first consistent, high quality surface vector winds from the European ERS-1 scatterometer were produced. (d) A polarimetric passive microwave radiometer, which appears to be capable of measuring both wind speed and direction, has been developed.

Policy Payoffs:
(a) Spaceborne data sets can be used to quantitatively assess climate variations in the ocean circulation, sea-surface temperature, and air-sea fluxes. (b) Improved instrumentation and algorithms for sea-surface winds can result in a cheaper and more accurate wind measurements for research and real-time weather forecasts. (c) A decade of mean sea level measurements will allow a quantitative response to global warming, a subject of great social and economic impact, especially on people living in coastal regions of the world.