Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 03 Issue 01

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Volume 03, No. 1
Pages 43 - 49

REVIEW AND COMMENT • Sun-Glitter Photographs of Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine from the Space Shuttle

Paul E. La Violette Donald R. JohnsonDavid A. Brooks
First Paragraph

Anyone who has flown over open water and noticed sunlight glittering from the water surface has probably been intrigued by the richness of the patterns seen in the sun’s reflectance. A number of investigators have explored the reflection phenomenon for the purpose of extracting information about surface waves, internal waves and a variety of frontal features associated with water masses and currents (e.g., Cox and Munk, 1954; Soules, 1970: Strong and De Rycke, 1973; La Violette, et al., 1980 and Gasparovic, et al., 1985). Since the ocean’s surface is not smooth, the sun’s reflectance does not appear as a disk, as in a mirrored reflection, but as a vague edged image whose distortion is determined by the solar incident angle and the amount of small-scale ocean roughness. The resulting sun glitter accentuates the spatial patterns associated with small-scale roughness that are mainly caused by spatial variations in wind stress, waves and wave-current interactions. The observed patterns are associated with oceanic processes and, when viewed from high altitudes, they can be used to identify the location of these processes over relatively large ocean areas.


La Violette, P.E., D.R. Johnson, and D.A. Brooks. 1990. Sun-glitter photographs of Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine from the space shuttle. Oceanography 3(1):43–49, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.1990.21