Half a century of satellite remote sensing of sea-surface temperature
Sea-surface temperature (SST) was one of the first ocean variables to be studied from earth observation satellites. Pioneering images from infrared scanning radiometers revealed the complexity of the surface temperature fields, but these were derived from radiance measurements at orbital heights and included the effects of the intervening atmosphere. Corrections for the effects of the atmosphere to make quantitative estimates of the SST became possible when radiometers with multiple infrared channels were deployed in 1979. At the same time, imaging microwave radiometers with SST capabilities were also flown. Since then, SST has been derived from infrared and microwave radiometers on polar orbiting satellites and from infrared radiometers on geostationary spacecraft. As the performances of satellite radiometers and SST retrieval algorithms improved, accurate, global, high resolution, frequently sampled SST fields became fundamental to many research and operational activities. Here we provide an overview of the physics of the derivation of SST and the history of the development of satellite instruments over half a century. As demonstrated accuracies increased, they stimulated scientific research into the oceans, the coupled ocean-atmosphere system and the climate. We provide brief overviews of the development of some applications, including the feasibility of generating Climate Data Records. We summarize the important role of the Group for High Resolution SST (GHRSST) in providing a forum for scientists and operational practitioners to discuss problems and results, and to help coordinate activities world-wide, including alignment of data formatting and protocols and research. The challenges of burgeoning data volumes, data distribution and analysis have benefited from simultaneous progress in computing power, high capacity storage, and communications over the Internet, so we summarize the development and current capabilities of data archives. We conclude with an outlook of developments anticipated in the next decade or so.
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