Scientific Papers

The impact and quality of Saildrone’s data has been featured in numerous scientific papers. Saildrone has demonstrated the highest possible levels of data quality, which has established scientific confidence in our measurements and sampling protocols. You can review some of the science publications below.

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Validation and Application of Satellite-Derived Sea Surface Temperature Gradients in the Bering Strait and Bering Sea

The Arctic is one of the most important regions in the world’s oceans for understanding the impacts of a changing climate. Yet, it is also difficult to measure because of extreme weather and ice conditions. In this work, we directly compare four datasets from the Group for High-Resolution Sea Surface Temperature (GHRSST) with a NASA Saildrone deployment along the Alaskan Coast and the Bering Sea and Bering Strait. The four datasets used are the Remote Sensing Systems Microwave Infrared Optimally Interpolated (MWIR) product, the Canadian Meteorological Center (CMC) product, the Daily Optimally Interpolated Product (DOISST), and the Operational Sea Surface Temperature and Ice Analysis (OSTIA) product. Spatial sea surface temperature (SST) gradients were derived for both the Saildrone deployment and GHRSST products, with the GHRSST products collocated with the Saildrone deployment. Overall, statistics indicate that the OSTIA product had a correlation of 0.79 and a root mean square difference of 0.11 °C/km when compared with Saildrone. CMC had the highest correlation of 0.81. Scatter plots indicate that OSTIA had the slope closest to one, thus best reproducing the magnitudes of the Saildrone gradients. Differences increased at latitudes > 65°N where sea ice would have a greater impact. A trend analysis was then performed on the gradient fields. Overall, positive trends in gradients occurred in areas along the coastal regions. A negative trend occurred at approximately 60°N. A major finding of this study is that future work needs to revolve around the impact of changing ice conditions on SST gradients. Another major finding is that a northward shift in the southern ice edge occurred after 2010 with a maxima at approximately 2019. This indicates that the shift of the southern ice edge is not gradual but has dramatically increased over the last decade. Future work needs to revolve around examining the possible causes for this northward shift.

Vazquez-Cuervo, Jorge, Michael Steele, David S. Wethey, José Gómez-Valdés, Marisol García-Reyes, Rachel Spratt, and Yang Wang. 2024. "Validation and Application of Satellite-Derived Sea Surface Temperature Gradients in the Bering Strait and Bering Sea" Remote Sensing 16, no. 14: 2530.


Assessment of Accuracy of Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer Sea Surface Temperature at High Latitudes Using Saildrone Data

The infrared (IR) satellite remote sensing of sea surface skin temperature (SSTskin) is challenging in the northern high-latitude region, especially in the Arctic because of its extreme environmental conditions, and thus the accuracy of SSTskin retrievals is questionable. Several Saildrone uncrewed surface vehicles were deployed at the Pacific side of the Arctic in 2019, and two of them, SD-1036 and SD-1037, were equipped with a pair of IR pyrometers on the deck, whose measurements have been shown to be useful in the derivation of SSTskin with sufficient accuracy for scientific applications, providing an opportunity to validate satellite SSTskin retrievals. This study aims to assess the accuracy of MODIS-retrieved SSTskin from both Aqua and Terra satellites by comparisons with collocated Saildrone-derived SSTskin data. The mean difference in SSTskin from the SD-1036 and SD-1037 measurements is ~0.4 K, largely resulting from differences in the atmospheric conditions experienced by the two Saildrones. The performance of MODIS on Aqua and Terra in retrieving SSTskin is comparable. Negative brightness temperature (BT) differences between 11 μm and 12 μm channels are identified as being physically based, but are removed from the analyses as they present anomalous conditions for which the atmospheric correction algorithm is not suited. Overall, the MODIS SSTskin retrievals show negative mean biases, −0.234 K for Aqua and −0.295 K for Terra. The variations in the retrieval inaccuracies show an association with diurnal warming events in the upper ocean from long periods of sunlight in the Arctic. Also contributing to inaccuracies in the retrieval is the surface emissivity effect in BT differences characterized by the Emissivity-introduced BT difference (EΔBT) index. This study demonstrates the characteristics of MODIS-retrieved SSTskin in the Arctic, at least at the Pacific side, and underscores that more in situ SSTskin data at high latitudes are needed for further error identification and algorithm development of IR SSTskin.

Jia, Chong, Peter J. Minnett, and Malgorzata Szczodrak. 2024. "Assessment of Accuracy of Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer Sea Surface Temperature at High Latitudes Using Saildrone Data" Remote Sensing 16, no. 11: 2008.


The Importance of Contemporaneous Wind and pCO2 Measurements for Regional Air-Sea CO2 Flux Estimates

Few observational platforms are able to sustain direct measurements of all the key variables needed in the bulk calculation of air-sea carbon dioxide (CO2) exchange, a capability newly established for some Uncrewed Surface Vehicles (USVs). Western boundary currents are particularly challenging observational regions due to strong variability and dangerous sea states but are also known hot spots for CO2 uptake, making air-sea exchange quantification in this region both difficult and important. Here, we present new observations collected by Saildrone USVs in the Gulf Stream during the winters of 2019 and 2022. We compared Saildrone data across co-located vehicles and against the Pioneer Array moorings to validate the data quality. We explored how CO2 flux estimates differ when all variables needed to calculate fluxes from the bulk formulas are simultaneously measured on the same platform, relative to the situation where in situ observations must be combined with publicly-available data products. We systematically replaced variables in the bulk formula with those often used for local and regional flux estimates. The analysis revealed that when using the ERA-5 reanalysis wind speed in place of in situ observations, the ocean uptake of CO2 is underestimated by 8%; this underestimate grows to 9% if the NOAA Marine Boundary Layer atmospheric CO2 product and ERA-5 significant wave height are also used in place of in situ observations. Overall our findings point to the importance of collecting contemporaneous observations of wind speed and ocean pCO2 to reduce biases in estimates of regional CO2 flux, especially during high wind events.

Nickford, S., Palter, J. B., & Mu, L. (2024). The importance of contemporaneous wind and pCO2 measurements for regional air-sea CO2 flux estimates. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 129, e2023JC020744.


Extratropical Storms Induce Carbon Outgassing Over the Southern Ocean

The strength and variability of the Southern Ocean carbon sink is a significant source of uncertainty in the global carbon budget. One barrier to reconciling observations and models is understanding how synoptic weather patterns modulate air-sea carbon exchange. Here, we identify and track storms using atmospheric sea level pressure fields from reanalysis data to assess the role that storms play in driving air-sea CO2 exchange. We examine the main drivers of CO2 fluxes under storm forcing and quantify their contribution to Southern Ocean annual air-sea CO2 fluxes. Our analysis relies on a forced ocean-ice simulation from the Community Earth System Model, as well as CO2 fluxes estimated from Biogeochemical Argo floats. We find that extratropical storms in the Southern Hemisphere induce CO2 outgassing, driven by CO2 disequilibrium. However, this effect is an order of magnitude larger in observations compared to the model and caused by different reasons. Despite large uncertainties in CO2 fluxes and storm statistics, observations suggest a pivotal role of storms in driving Southern Ocean air-sea CO2 outgassing that remains to be well represented in climate models, and needs to be further investigated in observations.

Carranza, M.M., Long, M.C., Di Luca, A. et al. Extratropical storms induce carbon outgassing over the Southern Ocean. npj Clim Atmos Sci 7, 106 (2024).

Characterizing the California Current System through Sea Surface Temperature and Salinity

Characterizing temperature and salinity (T-S) conditions is a standard framework in oceanography to identify and describe deep water masses and their dynamics. At the surface, this practice is hindered by multiple air–sea–land processes impacting T-S properties at shorter time scales than can easily be monitored. Now, however, the unsurpassed spatial and temporal coverage and resolution achieved with satellite sea surface temperature (SST) and salinity (SSS) allow us to use these variables to investigate the variability of surface processes at climate-relevant scales. In this work, we use SSS and SST data, aggregated into domains using a cluster algorithm over a T-S diagram, to describe the surface characteristics of the California Current System (CCS), validating them with in situ data from uncrewed Saildrone vessels. Despite biases and uncertainties in SSS and SST values in highly dynamic coastal areas, this T-S framework has proven useful in describing CCS regional surface properties and their variability in the past and in real time, at novel scales. This analysis also shows the capacity of remote sensing data for investigating variability in land–air–sea interactions not previously possible due to limited in situ data.

García-Reyes, Marisol, Gammon Koval, and Jorge Vazquez-Cuervo. 2024. "Characterizing the California Current System through Sea Surface Temperature and Salinity" Remote Sensing 16, no. 8: 1311.


Diurnal Warming Rectification in the Tropical Pacific Linked to Sea Surface Temperature Front

Sharp and rapid changes in the sea surface temperature (SST) associated with fronts and the diurnal cycle can drive changes in the atmospheric boundary-layer stability and circulation. Here we show how a one-dimensional surface ocean model forced with either high-resolution or daily averaged surface fluxes can be used to distinguish diurnal versus frontal SST anomalies observed from an uncrewed surface vehicle. The model, forced with daily satellite fluxes, shows that the diurnal warming is largest within the equatorial Pacific cold tongue of SST. The strong persistent SST front north of the cold tongue is evident in both the oceanic and atmospheric boundary-layer stability scales and, as a consequence, in the magnitude of the diurnal ocean warming. Using SST, barometric pressure and surface wind measurements from moorings at 0°, 95° W and 2° N, 95° W, we show that the front in the SST diurnal warming results in a weakened SST front in the afternoon and a corresponding reduced meridional gradient in the barometric pressure that appears to contribute to a diurnal pulsing of the surface meridional winds. To the extent that these modulate the surface branch of the Hadley cell, these diurnal variations may have remote impacts.

Cronin, M.F., Zhang, D., Wills, S.M. et al. Diurnal warming rectification in the tropical Pacific linked to sea surface temperature front. Nat. Geosci. (2024).

Validation of NASA Sea Surface Temperature Satellite Products Using Saildrone Data

Sea Surface Temperature (SST) is at the core of many processes in the oceans. Various remote sensing platforms have been used to obtain SST products of different scales, but their validation remains a topic of ongoing research. One promising platform is an uncrewed surface vehicle called Saildrone. We use the data from eight Saildrone deployments of the USA West Coast 2019 campaign to validate MODIS level-2 and Multi-scale Ultra-high Resolution (MUR) level-4 satellite SST products at 1km spatial resolution and to assess the robustness of the quality levels of MODIS level-2 products over the California Coast. Pixel-based SST comparisons between Saildrone and the satellite products were performed, as well as thermal gradient comparisons computed both at the pixel-base level and using kriging interpolation. The results generally showed better accuracies for the MUR products. The characterization of the MODIS quality level proved to be valid in areas covered by bad-quality MODIS pixels but less valid in areas covered by lower-quality pixels. The latter implies possible errors in the MODIS quality level characterization and MUR interpolation processes. We have demonstrated the ability of the Saildrones to accurately validate near-shore satellite SST products and provide important information for the quality assessment of satellite products.

Koutantou, Kalliopi, Philip Brunner, and Jorge Vazquez-Cuervo, "Validation of NASA Sea Surface Temperature Satellite Products Using Saildrone Data," in Remote Sensing, vol 15, 2023, no. 9: 2277.


Using Saildrones to Validate Satellite-Derived Sea Surface Salinity and Sea Surface Temperature along the California/Baja Coast

Abstract: Traditional ways of validating satellite-derived sea surface temperature (SST) and sea surface salinity (SSS) products by comparing with buoy measurements, do not allow for evaluating the impact of mesoscale-to-submesoscale variability. We present the validation of remotely sensed SST and SSS data against the unmanned surface vehicle (USV)—called Saildrone—measurements from the 60 day 2018 Baja California campaign. More specifically, biases and root mean square differences (RMSDs) were calculated between USV-derived SST and SSS values, and six satellite-derived SST (MUR, OSTIA, CMC, K10, REMSS, and DMI) and three SSS (JPLSMAP, RSS40, RSS70) products. Biases between the USV SST and OSTIA/CMC/DMI were approximately zero, while MUR showed a bias of 0.3 ◦C. The OSTIA showed the smallest RMSD of 0.39 ◦C, while DMI had the largest RMSD of 0.5 ◦C. An RMSD of 0.4 ◦C between Saildrone SST and the satellite-derived products could be explained by the diurnal and sub-daily variability in USV SST, which currently cannot be resolved by remote sensing measurements. SSS showed fresh biases of 0.1 PSU for JPLSMAP and 0.2 PSU and 0.3 PSU for RMSS40 and RSS70 respectively. SST and SSS showed peaks in coherence at 100 km, most likely associated with the variability of the California Current System.

Vazquez-Cuervo, J.; Gomez-Valdes, J.; Bouali, M.; Miranda, L.E.; Van der Stocken, T.; Tang, W.; Gentemann, C. "Using Saildrones to Validate Satellite-Derived Sea Surface Salinity and Sea Surface Temperature along the California/Baja Coast." Remote Sens. 2019, 11, 1964.


Validating Salinity from SMAP and HYCOM Data with Saildrone Data during EUREC4A-OA/ATOMIC

The 2020 ‘Elucidating the role of clouds-circulation coupling in climate-Ocean-Atmosphere’ (EUREC4A-OA) and the ‘Atlantic Tradewind Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Interaction Campaign’ (ATOMIC) campaigns focused on improving our understanding of the interaction between clouds, convection and circulation and their function in our changing climate. The campaign utilized many data collection technologies, some of which are relatively new. In this study, we used saildrone uncrewed surface vehicles, one of the newer cutting edge technologies available for marine data collection, to validate Level 2 and Level 3 Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite and Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Model (HYCOM) sea surface salinity (SSS) products in the Western Tropical Atlantic. The saildrones observed fine-scale salinity variability not present in the lower-spatial resolution satellite and model products. In regions that lacked significant small-scale salinity variability, the satellite and model salinities performed well. However, SMAP Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) 70 km generally outperformed its counterparts outside of areas with submesoscale SSS variation, whereas RSS 40 km performed better within freshening events such as a fresh tongue. HYCOM failed to detect the fresh tongue. These results will allow researchers to make informed decisions regarding the most ideal product and its drawbacks for their applications in this region and aid in the improvement of mesoscale and submesoscale SSS products, which can lead to the refinement of numerical weather prediction (NWP) and climate models.

Hall, Kashawn, Alton Daley, Shanice Whitehall, Sanola Sandiford, and Chelle L. Gentemann. 2022. "Validating Salinity from SMAP and HYCOM Data with Saildrone Data during EUREC4A-OA/ATOMIC" Remote Sensing 14, no. 14: 3375.


Using Saildrones to Validate Arctic Sea-Surface Salinity from the SMAP Satellite and from Ocean Models

The Arctic Ocean is one of the most important and challenging regions to observe—it experiences the largest changes from climate warming, and at the same time is one of the most difficult to sample because of sea ice and extreme cold temperatures. Two NASA-sponsored deployments of the Saildrone vehicle provided a unique opportunity for validating sea-surface salinity (SSS) derived from three separate products that use data from the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite. To examine possible issues in resolving mesoscale-to-submesoscale variability, comparisons were also made with two versions of the Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean (ECCO) model (Carroll, D; Menmenlis, D; Zhang, H.). The results indicate that the three SMAP products resolve the runoff signal associated with the Yukon River, with high correlation between SMAP products and Saildrone SSS. Spectral slopes, overall, replicate the -2.0 slopes associated with mesoscale-submesoscale variability. Statistically significant spatial coherences exist for all products, with peaks close to 100 km. Based on these encouraging results, future research should focus on improving derivations of satellite-derived SSS in the Arctic Ocean and integrating model results to complement remote sensing observations.

Vazquez-Cuervo, Jorge; Gentemann, Chelle; Tang, Wenqing; Carroll, Dustin; Zhang, Hong; Menemenlis, Dimitris; Gomez-Valdes, Jose; Bouali, Marouan; Steele, Michael. 2021. "Using Saildrones to Validate Arctic Sea-Surface Salinity from the SMAP Satellite and from Ocean Models" Remote Sens. 13, no. 5: 831.


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