The role and contribution of satellite data in operational oceanography is reviewed, with emphasis on northern European seas. The possibility to observe various ocean parameters and processes by existing satellite sensors, such as optical instruments, infrared radiometers, passive microwave radiometers, and active microwave systems (altimeter, scatterometer, SAR) is discussed. The basic parameters are: Sea-surface temperature observed by infrared radiometers, ocean colour by spectrometers, sea-surface elevation by altimeters, and surface roughness by active and passive microwave systems, which can be used to derive surface wind and waves. A number of ocean processes can be derived from synoptic mapping of the basic parameters of larger sea areas, such as current patterns, fronts, eddies, water mass distribution, and various water quality parameters (chlorophyll, surface slicks, suspended sediments). The suitability of existing satellite data to fulfil the operational requirements for temporal and spatial coverage, data delivery in near-real-time, and long-term access to data is discussed in light of the fact that optical/infrared data in northern Europe are severely hampered by frequent cloud cover, while microwave techniques can provide useful data independent of weather and light conditions. Finally, the use of data assimilation in oceanographic models is briefly summarised, indicating that this technique is under development and will soon be adopted in operational oceanography. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
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