Synergy between in situ and altimetry data to observe and study Northern Current variations (NW Mediterranean Sea)
During the last 15 years, substantial progress has been achieved in altimetry data processing, now providing data with enough accuracy to illustrate the potential of these observations for coastal applications. In parallel, new altimetry techniques improve data quality by reducing land contamination and enhancing the signal-to-noise ratio. Satellite altimetry provides more robust and accurate measurements ever closer to the coast and resolve shorter ocean signals. An important issue is now to learn how to use altimetry data in conjunction with other coastal observing techniques. Here, we cross-compare and combine the coastal currents provided by large datasets of ship-mounted acoustic Doppler current profilers (ADCPs), gliders, high-frequency (HF) radars and altimetry. We analyze how the different available observing techniques, with a particular focus on altimetry, capture the Northern Current variability at different timescales. We also study the coherence, divergence and complementarity of the information derived from the different instruments considered. Two generations of altimetry missions and both 1 Hz and high-rate measurements are used: Jason-2 (nadir Ku-band radar) and SARAL/AltiKa (nadir Ka-band altimetry); their performances are compared. In terms of mean speed of the Northern Current, a very good spatial continuity and coherence is observed at regional scale, showing the complementarity among the types of current measurements. In terms of current variability, there is still a good spatial coherence but the Northern Current amplitudes derived from altimetry, glider, ADCP and HF radar data differ, mainly because of differences in their respective spatial and temporal resolutions. If we consider seasonal variations, 1 Hz altimetry captures ∼60 % and ∼55 % of the continental slope current amplitude observed by the gliders and by the ADCPs, respectively. For individual dates this number varies a lot as a function of the characteristics of the Northern Current on the corresponding date, with no clear seasonal tendency observed. Compared to Jason-2, the SARAL altimeter data tend to give estimations of the NC characteristics that are closer to in situ data in a number of cases. The much noisier high-rate altimetry data appear to be more difficult to analyze but they provide current estimates that are generally closer to the other types of current measurements. Thus, satellite altimetry provides a synoptic view of the Northern Current circulation system and variability, which helps to interpret the other observations. Its regular sampling allows for the observation of many features that may be missed by irregular in situ data.