Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 23 Issue 04

View Issue TOC
Volume 23, No. 4
Pages 36 - 51


Ocean Winds and Turbulent Air-Sea Fluxes Inferred From Remote Sensing

By Mark A. Bourassa , Sarah T. Gille, Darren L. Jackson, J. Brent Roberts , and Gary A. Wick 
Jump to
Article Abstract Citation References Copyright & Usage
Article Abstract

Surface turbulent fluxes are key pathways through which the atmosphere is coupled with the ocean. They provide mechanisms through which momentum, energy, moisture, and materials such as CO2 are transferred between the ocean and atmosphere. Surface fluxes are also important players in vertical and horizontal transport in the atmosphere and the ocean. There have been attempts to estimate surface fluxes directly from satellite observations; however, they are typically calculated from observations of surface and near‑surface variables. Recent improvements in the measurement of vector winds, air temperatures, and atmospheric humidities have all contributed to better estimation of surface fluxes from satellite observations. These advances are discussed in the context of applications, with examples from a tropical cyclone and a very strong mid-latitude storm. Proposed future systems that use improved instrumentation and collocate observations of winds, temperatures, and humidities will increase the accuracy beyond current capabilities. Targets for a variety of important climate-related processes are provided.


Bourassa, M.A., S.T. Gille, D.L. Jackson, J.B. Roberts, and G.A. Wick. 2010. Ocean winds and turbulent air-sea fluxes inferred from remote sensing. Oceanography 23(4):36–51, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2010.04.


Aumann, H., M.T. Chahine, C. Gautier, M.D. Goldberg, E. Kalnay, L.M. McMillin, H. Revercomb, P.W. Rosenkranz, W.L. Smith, D.H. Staelin, and others. 2003. AIRS/AMSU/HSB on the Aqua mission: Design, science objectives, data products, and processing systems. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing 41(2):253–264. [CrossRef]

Bentamy, A., K.B. Katsaros, M. Alberto, W.M. Drennan, E.B. Forde, and H. Roquet. 2003. Satellite estimates of wind speed and latent heat flux over the global oceans. Journal of Climate 16:637–656.

Boé, J., A. Hall, and X. Qu. 2009. Deep ocean heat uptake as a major source of spread in transient climate change simulations. Geophysical Research Letters 36, L22701. [CrossRef]

Bourassa, M.A. 2006. Satellite-based observations of surface turbulent stress during severe weather. Pp. 35–52 in Atmosphere-Ocean Interactions, vol. 2. W. Perrie, ed., Wessex Institute of Technology Press, Southampton, UK. [CrossRef]

Bourassa, M.A., and S. Gille. 2008. U.S. CLIVAR working groups on high latitude surface fluxes. U.S. CLIVAR Variations 6:8–11.

Bourassa, M.A., E. Rodriguez, and R. Gaston. 2010a. Summary of the 2008 and 2009 NASA Ocean Vector Winds Science Team Meeting. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 91. [CrossRef]

Bourassa, M.A., H. Bonekamp, P. Chang, D. Chelton, J. Courtney, R. Edson, J. Figa, Y. He, H. Hersbach, K. Hilburn, and others. 2010b. Remotely sensed winds and wind stresses for marine forecasting and ocean modeling. Proceedings of OceanObs’09: Sustained Ocean Observations and Information for Society Conference (Vol. 2). Venice, Italy, September 21–25, 2009, J. Hall, D.E. Harrison, and D. Stammer, eds, ESA Publication WPP-306.

Boutin, J., J. Etcheto, Y. Dandonneau, D.C.E. Bakker, R.A. Feely, H.Y. Inoue, M. Ishii, R.D. Ling, P.D. Nightingale, N. Metzl, and R. Wanninkhof. 1999. Satellite sea surface temperature: A powerful tool for interpreting in situ pCO2 measurements in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Tellus 51B:490–508.

Bradley, F., and C. Fairall. 2007. A Guide to Making Climate Quality Meteorological and Flux Measurements at Sea. NOAA Technical Memorandum OAR PSD-311, NOAA/ESRL/PSD, Boulder, CO, 108 pp.

Cerovecki, I., L. Talley, M. Mazloff, and G. Maze. 2008. Subantarctic mode water formation estimated from data assimilating model simulations. Paper presented at AGU Fall Meeting 2008, San Francisco, CA, Paper OS13B-1180, http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2008AGUFMOS13B1180C (accessed October 3, 2010).

Chelton, D.B., and S.-P. Xie. 2010. Coupled ocean-atmosphere interaction at oceanic mesoscales. Oceanography 23(4):52–69. [CrossRef]

Chelton, D.B., M.G. Schlax, M.H. Freilich, and R.F. Milliff. 2004. Satellite measurements reveal persistent small-scale features in ocean winds. Science 303(5660):978–983. [CrossRef]

Chevallier, F., R.J. Engelen, and P. Peylin. 2005. The contribution of AIRS data to the estimation of CO2 sources and sinks. Geophysical Research Letters 32, L23801. [CrossRef]

Clayson, C.A. 2009. Representation of air-sea turbulent fluxes from varying satellite methodologies. Presentation at the American Meteorological Society (AMS) 16th Conference on Air-Sea Interaction and AMS 16th Conference on Satellite Meteorology and Oceanography, Phoenix, AZ, January 10–15, 2009.

Cornillon, P., and K.A. Park. 2001. Warm core ring velocities inferred from NSCAT. Geophysical Research Letters 28(4):575–578. [CrossRef]

Cronin, M.F., N. Bond, J. Booth, H. Ichikawa, T.M. Joyce, K. Kelly, M. Kubota, B. Qiu, C. Reason, M. Rouault, and others. In press. Monitoring ocean-atmosphere interactions in western boundary current extensions. In Proceedings of OceanObs’09: Sustained Ocean Observations and Information for Society” Conference (Vol. 2). Venice, Italy, September 21–25, 2009, J. Hall, D.E. Harrison, and D. Stammer, eds, ESA Publication WPP-306.

Dohan, K., and N. Maximenko. 2010. Monitoring ocean currents with satellite sensors. Oceanography 23(4):94–103. [CrossRef]

Donlon, C.J., and the GHRSST-PP Science Team. 2007. The Global Ocean Data Assimilation Project (GODAE) High Resolution Sea Surface Temperature Pilot Project (GHRSST-PP). Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 88:1,197–1,213.

Draper, D.W., and D.G. Long. 2004. Evaluating the effect of rain on SeaWinds scatterometer measurements. Journal of Geophysical Research 109, C02005. [CrossRef]

Eakin, C.M., C.J. Nim, R.E. Brainard, C. Aubrecht, C. Elvidge, D.K. Gledhill, F. Muller-Karger, P.J. Mumby, W.J. Skirving, A.E. Strong, and others. 2010. Monitoring coral reefs from space. Oceanography 23(4):118–133. [CrossRef]

Esbensen, S.K., D.B. Chelton, D. Vickers, and J. Sun. 1993. An analysis of errors in SSMI evaporation estimates over the global oceans. Journal of Geophysical Research 98:7,081–7,101.

Etcheto, J., J. Boutin, Y. Dandonneau, D.C.E. Bakker, R.A. Feely, R.D. Ling, P.D. Nightingale, and R. Wanninkhof. 1999. Air-sea CO2 flux variability in the equatorial Pacific Ocean near 100°W. Tellus 51B:734–747.

Fairall, C.W., E.F. Bradley, D.P. Rogers, J.B. Edson, and G.S. Young. 1996. Bulk parameterization of air–sea fluxes in TOGA COARE. Journal of Geophysical Research 101:3,747–3,767.

Fairall, C.W., J.E. Hare, J.B. Edson, and W. McGillis. 2000. Parameterization and micrometeorological measurements of air-sea gas transfer. Boundary-Layer Meteorology 96:63–105. [CrossRef]

Fairall, C.W., E.F. Bradley, J.E. Hare, A.A. Grachev, and J.B. Edson. 2003. Bulk parameterization of air-sea fluxes: Updates and verification for the COARE algorithm. Journal of Climate 16:571–591.

Feely, R.A., T. Takahashi, R. Wanninkhof, M.J. McPhaden, C.E. Cosca, S.C. Sutherland, and M.-E. Carr. 2006. Decadal variability of the air-sea CO2 fluxes in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Journal of Geophysical Research 111, C08S90. [CrossRef]

Freeman, A., V. Zlotnicki, T. Liu, B. Holt, R. Kwok, S. Yueh, J. Vazquez, D. Siegel, and G. Lagerloef. 2010. Ocean measurements from space in 2025. Oceanography 23(4):144–161. [CrossRef]

Frew, N.M., D.M. Glover, E.J. Bock, and S.J. McCue. 2007. A new approach to estimation of global air-sea gas transfer velocity fields using dual-frequency altimeter backscatter. Journal of Geophysical Research 112, C11003. [CrossRef]

Fu, L.-L., D.B. Chelton, P.-Y. Le Traon, and R. Morrow. 2010. Eddy dynamics from satellite altimetry. Oceanography 23(4):14–25. [CrossRef]

Glover, D.M., N.M. Frew, and S.J. McCue. 2007. Air-sea gas transfer velocity estimates from the Jason-1 and TOPEX altimeters: Prospects for a long-term global time series. Journal of Marine Systems 66(1–4):173–181. [CrossRef]

Goodberlet, M.A., C.T. Swift, and J.C. Wilkerson. 1989. Remote sensing of ocean surface winds with the Special Sensor Microwave/Imager. Journal of Geophysical Research 94(C10):14,547–14,555. [CrossRef]

Graf, J.E., W.-Y. Tsi, and L. Jones. 1998. Overview of QuikSCAT mission: A quick deployment of a high resolution, wide swath scanning scatterometer for ocean wind measurement. Pp. 314–317 in Proceedings of IEEE Southeastcon ‘98, “Engineering for a New Era.” Orlando, FL, April 24–26, 1998, extended abstract, Cat. No. 98CH36170. [CrossRef]

Gulev, S.K., T. Jung, and E. Ruprecht. 2007a. Estimation of the impact of sampling errors in the VOS observations on air-sea fluxes. Part 1: Uncertainties in climate means. Journal of Climate 20:279–301. [CrossRef]

Gulev, S.K., T. Jung, and E. Ruprecht. 2007b. Estimation of the impact of sampling errors in the VOS observations on air-sea fluxes. Part II: Impact on trends and interannual variability. Journal of Climate 20:302–315. [CrossRef]

Hansen, J., L. Nazarenko, R. Ruedy, M. Sato, J. Willis, A. Del Genio, D. Koch, A. Lacis, K. Lo, S. Menon, and others. 2005. Earth’s energy imbalance: Confirmation and implications. Science 308:1,431–1,435. [CrossRef]

Hollinger, J. 1991. DMSP Special Sensor Microwave/Imager Calibration/Validation, Final Report Volume II. Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, DC.

Jackson, D.L., and G.A. Wick. 2009a. Evaluation of satellite-derived estimates of the gas transfer velocity using direct observations from research vessels. Presentation at 2009 AMS Annual Meeting, Phoenix, AZ, January 10–15, 2009.

Jackson, D.L., and G.A. Wick. 2009b. Assessment of satellite-derived air-sea transfer velocities. Presentation at NASA Ocean Color Research Team Meeting, New York, NY, May 4–6, 2009.

Jackson, D.L., and G.A. Wick. 2010. Near-surface air temperature retrieval derived from AMSU-A and sea surface temperature observations. Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology 27:1,769–1,776.

Jackson, D.L., G.A. Wick, and J.J. Bates. 2006. Near-surface retrieval of air temperature and specific humidity using multi-sensor microwave satellite observations. Journal of Geophysical Research 111, D10306. [CrossRef]

Jackson, D.L., G.A. Wick, and F.R. Robertson. 2009. Improved multi-sensor approach to satellite-retrieved near-surface specific humidity observations. Journal of Geophysical Research 114, (D)16303. [CrossRef]

Josey, S.A., E.E. Kent, and P.K. Taylor. 1995. Seasonal variations between sampling and classical mean turbulent heat flux estimates in the eastern North Atlantic. Annales Geophysicae 13:1,054–1,064.

Johnson, G.C., J.M. Lyman, and J.K. Willis. 2007. Global oceans: Heat content. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 88(6):S31–S33.

Kelly, K.A., S. Dickinson, M.J. McPhaden, and G.C. Johnson. 2001. Ocean currents evident in satellite wind data. Geophysical Research Letters 28:2,469–2,472. [CrossRef]

Kwok, R., and D. Sulsky. 2010. Arctic ocean sea ice thickness and kinematics: Satellite retrievals and modeling. Oceanography 23(4):134–143. [CrossRef]

Lagerloef, G., R. Schmitt, J. Schanze, and H.-Y. Kao. 2010. The ocean and the global water cycle. Oceanography 23(4):82–93. [CrossRef]

Lee, T., S. Hakkinen, K. Kelly, B. Qiu, H. Bonekamp, and E.J. Lindstrom. 2010. Satellite observations of ocean circulation changes with climate variability. Oceanography 23(4):70–81. [CrossRef]

Levitus, S., J.I. Antonov, T.P. Boyer, R.A. Locarnini, H.E. Garcia, and A.V. Mishonov. 2009. Global ocean heat content 1955–2008 in light of recently revealed instrumentation problems. Geophysical Research Letters 36, L07608. [CrossRef]

Liu, W.T. 1986. Statistical relation between monthly mean precipitable water and surface-level humidity over global oceans. Monthly Weather Review 114:1,591–1,602.

NRC (National Research Council). 2007. Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond. Committee on Earth Science and Applications from Space: A Community Assessment and Strategy for the Future, The National Academies Press, Washington, DC.

Olsen, A., J.A. Trinanes, and R. Wanninkhof. 2004. Sea-air flux of CO2 in the Caribbean Sea estimated using in situ and remote sensing data. Remote Sensing of the Environment 89:309–325. [CrossRef]

Ono, T., T. Saino, N. Kuritan, and K. Sasaki. 2004. Basin-scale extrapolation of shipboard pCO2 data by using satellite SST and Chl a. International Journal of Remote Sensing 25:3,803–3,815.

Quilfen, Y., B. Chapron, and D. Vandemark. 2001. The ERS scatterometer wind measurement accuracy: Evidence of seasonal and regional biases. Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology 18:1,684–1,697.

Rangama, Y., J. Boutin, J. Etcheto, L. Merlivat, T. Takahashi, B. Delille, M. Frankignoulle, and D.C.E. Bakker. 2005. Variability of the net air-sea CO2 flux inferred from shipboard and satellite measurements in the Southern Ocean south of Tasmania and New Zealand. Journal of Geophysical Research 110, C09005. [CrossRef]

Roberts, B., C.A. Clayson, F.R. Robertson, and D.L. Jackson. 2010. Predicting near-surface characteristics from SSM/I using neural networks with a first guess approach. Journal of Geophysical Research, 115, D19113. [CrossRef]

Ross, D.B., V.J. Cardone, J. Overland, R.D. McPherson, W.J. Pierson Jr., and T. Yu. 1985. Oceanic surface winds. Advances in Geophysics 27:101–138. [CrossRef]

Sarma, V.V.S.S., T. Saino, K. Sasaoka, Y. Nojiri, T. Ono, M. Ishii, H.Y. Inoue, and K. Matsumoto. 2006. Basin-scale pCO2 distribution using satellite sea surface temperature, Chl a, and climatological salinity in the North Pacific in spring and summer. Global Biogeochemistry Cycles 20, GB3005. [CrossRef]

Schlüssel, P., L. Schanz, and G. Englisch. 1995. Retrieval of latent heat flux and longwave irradiance at the sea surface from SSM/I and AVHRR measurements. Advances in Space Research 16:107–116. [CrossRef]

Schulz, J., P. Schlüssel, and J. Grassl. 1993. Water vapour in the atmospheric boundary layer over oceans from SSM/I measurements. International Journal of Remote Sensing 14:2,773–2,789.

Schlax, M.G., D.B. Chelton, and M.H. Freilich. 2001. Sampling errors in wind fields constructed from single and tandem scatterometer datasets. Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology 18:1,014–1,036.

Small, R.J., S.P. deSzoeke, S.P. Xie, L. O’Neill, H. Seo, Q. Song, P. Cornillon, M. Spall, and S. Minobe. 2008. Air–sea interaction over ocean fronts and eddies. Dynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans 45:274–319. [CrossRef]

Smith, S.R. 2004. Focusing on improving automated meteorological observations from ships. Eos, Transactions, American Geophysical Union 85(34):319. [CrossRef]

Smith, S.R., M. Bourassa, J. Rettig, J. Rolph, E. Kent, E. Schulz, R. Verein, S. Rutz, and C. Paver. In press. The data management system for the shipboard automated meteorological and oceanographic system (SAMOS) initiative. Proceedings of OceanObs’09: Sustained Ocean Observations and Information for Society Conference (Vol. 2). Venice, Italy, September 21–25, 2009, J. Hall, D.E. Harrison, and D. Stammer, eds, ESA Publication WPP-306.

Speer, K., S.R. Rintoul, and B. Sloyan. 2000. The diabatic Deacon Cell. Journal of Physical Oceanography 30:3,212–3,222.

Wanninkhof, R. 1992. Relationship between wind speed and gas exchange over the ocean. Journal of Geophysical Research 97:7,373–7,382.

Wanninkhof, R., and W.R. McGillis. 1999. A cubic relationship between air-sea CO2 exchange and wind speed. Geophysical Research Letters 26:1,889–1,892.

Weissman, D.E., and M.A. Bourassa. 2008. Measurements of the effect of rain-induced sea surface roughness on the satellite scatterometer radar cross section. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing 46:2,882–2,894.

Wentz, F.J. 1997. A well-calibrated ocean algorithm for special sensor microwave/imager. Journal of Geophysical Research 102(C4):8,703–8,718. [CrossRef]

Wentz, F.J., L. Ricciardulli, K. Hilburn, and C. Mears. 2007. How much more rain will global warming bring? Science 317:233–235. [CrossRef]

Willis, J.K., D.P. Chambers, C.-Y. Kuo, and C.K. Shum. 2010. Global sea level rise: Recent progress and challenges for the decade to come. Oceanography 23(4):26–35. [CrossRef]

Xie, S.-P., H. Xu, W.S. Kessler, and M. Nonaka. 2005. Air-sea interaction over the eastern Pacific warm pool: Gap winds, thermocline dome, and atmospheric convection. Journal of Climate 18:5–25. [CrossRef]

Yoder, J.A., S.C. Doney, D.A. Siegel, and C. Wilson. 2010. Study of marine ecosystems and biogeochemistry now and in the future: Examples of the unique contributions from space. Oceanography 23(4):104–117. [CrossRef]

Copyright & Usage

This is an open access article made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution, and reproduction in any medium or format as long as users cite the materials appropriately, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate the changes that were made to the original content. Images, animations, videos, or other third-party material used in articles are included in the Creative Commons license unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If the material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission directly from the license holder to reproduce the material.