Radiometric measurements of the sea-surface skin temperature: the competing roles of the diurnal thermocline and the cool skin
It has long been recognized that satellite-borne infrared radiometers measure radiance that is more closely related to the temperature of the skin of the ocean than the sub-surface bulk temperature, but, historically, atmospheric correction algorithm derivation and validation exercises have been conducted using bulk temperatures measured at a depth of a metre or more. A recent validation of sea-surface temperature (SST) fields derived from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) with skin temperature measurements of the Marine-Atmospheric Emitted Radiance Interferometer (M-AERI) revealed a very low mean bias error, much smaller than was expected, given the thermal skin effect which acts to cool the surface with respect to sub-surface values by several tenths of a degree. This result does not imply the skin effect is unimportant - its effect is now well documented in many datasets - but that its effect is being partially compensated by diurnal heating effects. The evidence for this is presented and the consequences in terms of validating satellite-derived SSTs and of merging data from sensors with different satellite overpass times are discussed.