Different Answers Blowing in the Wind

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Science  29 Jun 2001:
Vol. 292, Issue 5526, pp. 2399
DOI: 10.1126/science.292.5526.2399c

Winds blowing over the surface of the ocean are responsible for most large-scale surface ocean currents. Knowing the wind stress (the transfer of momentum from the air to the water) is a necessary part of understanding air-sea coupling during important climatological events such as El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Conventional determinations of wind stress rely on wind measurements made with anenometers, which are located in fixed positions, so surface water motion is not included. Sea surface winds also can be measured remotely with satellite-mounted radar scatterometers that provide nearly global coverage on an almost daily basis. This method measures the relative motion between air and water, so the wind stress calculated from these measurements reflects the physical interaction between the atmosphere and the ocean. By comparing measurements from scatterometers with concurrent measurements from an array of buoy-mounted anemometers distributed throughout the tropical Pacific Ocean, Kelly et al. show that there can be large discrepencies, or even reversals, between estimates of wind stress made by the two methods. — HJS

Geophys. Res. Lett. 28, 2469 (2001).

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