Toward improved validation of satellite sea surface skin temperature measurements for climate research

C. J. Donlon, P. J. Minnett, C. Gentemann, T. J. Nightingale, I. J. Barton, B. Ward, M. J. Murray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

439 Scopus citations


A poor validation strategy will compromise the quality of satellite-derived sea surface temperature (SST) products because confidence limits cannot be quantified. This paper addresses the question of how to provide the best operational strategy to validate satellite-derived skin sea surface temperature (SSTskin) measurements. High quality in situ observations obtained using different state-of-the-art infrared radiometer systems are used to characterize the relationship between the SSTskin, the subsurface SST at depth (SSTdepth), and the surface wind speed. Data are presented for different oceans and seasons. These data indicate that above a wind speed of approximately 6 m s-1 the relationship between the SSTskin and SSTdepth, is well characterized for both day- and nighttime conditions by a cool bias of -0.17 ± -0.07 K rms. At lower wind speeds, stratification of the upper-ocean layers during the day may complicate the relationship, while at night a cooler skin is normally observed. Based on these observations, a long-term global satellite SSTskin validation strategy is proposed. Emphasis is placed on the use of autonomous, ship-of-opportunity radiometer systems for areas characterized by prevailing low-wind speed conditions. For areas characterized by higher wind speed regimes, well-calibrated, quality-controlled, ship and buoy SSTdepth observations, corrected for a cool skin basis, should also be used. It is foresȩen that SSTdepth data will provide the majority of in situ validation data required for operational satellite SST validation. We test the strategy using SSTskin observations from the Along Track Scanning Radiometer, which are shown to be accurate to approximately 0.2 K in the tropical Pacific Ocean, and using measurements from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer. We note that this strategy provides for robust retrospective calibration and validation of satellite SST data and a means to compare and compile in a meaningful and consistent fashion similar datasets. A better understanding of the spatial and temporal variability of thermal stratification of the upper-ocean layers during low-wind speed conditions is fundamental to improvements in SST validation and development of multisensor satellite SST products.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)353-369
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 15 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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