Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK

Research Article

Can the Subtropical North Atlantic permanent thermocline be observed from space?

Robin  Pingree a1a2c1, Yu-Heng  Kuo a1 and Carlos  Garcia-Soto a3
a1 Institute of Marine Studies, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth, PL4 8AA, UK
a2 Marine Biological Association, The Laboratory, Citadel Hill, Plymouth, PL1 2PB, UK
a3 Centro Oceanográfíco de Santander, Instituto Español de Oceanografía (IEO), Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología (MCyT), Promontorio de San Martin s/n, 39004 Santander, Spain


The analysis of remotely sensed altimeter data and in situ measurements shows that ERS 2 radar can monitor the ocean permanent thermocline from space. The remotely sensed sea level anomaly data account for [similar]2/3 of the temperature variance or vertical displacement of isotherms at a depth of [similar]550 m in the Subtropical North Atlantic Ocean near 32·5°N. This depth corresponds closely to the region of maximum temperature gradient in the permanent thermocline where near semi-annual internal vertical displacements reach 200 to 300 m. The gradient of the altimeter sea level anomaly data correlates well with measured ocean currents to a depth of 750 m. It is shown that observations from space can account for [similar]3/4 of the variance of ocean currents measured in situ in the permanent thermocline over a 2-y period. The magnification of the permanent thermocline displacement with respect to the displacement of the sea surface was determined as −×650 and gives a measure of the ratio of barotropic to baroclinic decay scale of geostrophic current with depth. The overall results are used to interpret an eight year altimeter data time series in the Subtropical North Atlantic at 32·5°N which shows a dominant wave or eddy period near 200 days, rather than semi-annual and increases in energy propagating westward in 1995 (west of 25°W). The effects of rapid North Atlantic Oscillation climate change on ocean circulation are discussed. The altimeter data for the Atlantic were Fourier analysed. It is shown how the annual and semi-annual components relate to the seasonal maximum cholorophyll-a SeaWiFS signal in tropical and equatorial regions due to the lifting of the thermocline caused by seasonally varying ocean currents forced by wind stress.

(Received March 14 2002)
(Accepted August 7 2002)

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