First multi-year assessment of Sentinel-1 radial velocity products using HF radar currents in a coastal environment


Direct sensing of total ocean surface currents with microwave Doppler signals is a growing topic of interest for oceanography, with relevance to several new ocean mission concepts proposed in recent years. Since 2014, the spaceborne C-band SAR instruments of the Copernicus Sentinel-1 (S1) mission routinely acquire microwave Doppler data, distributed to users through operational S1 Level-2 ocean radial velocity (L2 OCN RVL) products. S1 L2 RVL data could produce high-resolution maps of ocean surface currents that would benefit ocean observing and modelling, particularly in coastal regions. However, uncorrected platform effects and instrument anomalies continue to impact S1 RVL data and prevent direct exploitation. In this paper, a simple empirical method is proposed to calibrate and correct operational S1 L2 RVL products and retrieve two-dimensional maps of surface currents in the radar line-of-sight. The study focuses on the German Bight where wind, wave and current data from marine stations and an HF radar instrumented site provide comprehensive means to evaluate S1 retrieved currents. Analyses are deliberately limited to Sentinel-1A (S1A) ascending passes to focus on one single instrument and fixed SAR viewing geometry. The final dataset comprises 78 separate S1A acquisitions over 2.5 years, of which 56 are matched with collocated HF radar data. The empirical corrections bring significant improvements to S1A RVL data, producing higher quality estimates and much better agreement with HF radar radial currents. Comparative evaluation of S1A against HF radar currents for different WASV corrections reveal that best results are obtained in this region when computing the WASV with sea state rather than wind vector input. Accounting for sea state produces S1 radial currents with a precision (std of the difference) around 0.3 m/s at ∼1 km resolution. Precision improves to ∼0.24 m/s when averaging over 21 × 27 km2, with correlations with HF radar data reaching up to 0.93. Evidence of wind-current interactions when tides and wind align and short fetch conditions call for further research with more satellite data and other sites to better understand and correct the WASV in coastal regions. Finally, 1 km resolution maps of climatological S1A radial currents obtained over 2.5 years reveal strong coastal jets and fine scale details of the coastal circulation that closely match the known bathymetry and deep-water coastal channels in this region. The wealth of oceanographic information in corrected S1 RVL data is encouraging for Doppler oceanography from space and its application to observing small scale ocean dynamics, atmosphere and ocean vertical exchanges and marine ecosystem response to environmental change.
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