Capability of the SMAP Mission to Measure Ocean Surface Winds in Storms

Meissner, Thomas ; Ricciardulli, Lucrezia ; Wentz, Frank J.

Année de publication
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission was launched in January 2015 and has been providing science data since April 2015. Though designed to measure soil moisture, the SMAP radiometer has an excellent capability to measure ocean winds in storms at a resolution of 40 km with a swath width of 1,000 km. SMAP radiometer channels operate at a very low microwave frequency (L band, 1.41 GHz, 21.4 cm), which has good sensitivity to ocean surface wind speed even in very high winds and with very little impact by rain. This gives SMAP a distinct advantage over many spaceborne ocean wind sensors such as C-band [Advanced Scatterometer (ASCAT)] or Ku-band [Rapid Scatterometer (RapidScat)] scatterometers and radiometers operating at higher frequencies [Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I), Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Microwave Imager (TMI), WindSat, Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR), and Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Microwave Imager (GMI)], which either lose sensitivity at very high winds or degrade in rainy conditions. This article discusses the major features of a new ocean wind vector retrieval algorithm designed for SMAP. We compare SMAP wind fields in recent intense tropical cyclones with wind measurements from current scatterometer missions as well as WindSat. The most important validation source in hurricanes is the airborne stepped frequency microwave radiometer (SFMR), whose wind speeds are matched with SMAP in space and time. A comparison between SMAP and SFMR winds for eight storms in 2015, including Patricia, one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded, shows excellent agreement up to 65 m s–1 without degradation in rain.

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