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The observation of the surface roughness characteristics of the Rhine plume frontal boundaries by simultaneous airborne thematic mapper and multifrequency helicopter-borne radar scatterometer

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Abstract. In this paper, we describe how high spatial resolution (10 m) multisensor remote sensing techniques can be used to study the surface roughness characteristics of large scale frontal boundaries (in this case associated with the Rhine Plume). The instrumentation employed in the research consisted of a Daedalus AADS 1268 Airborne Thematic Mapper (ATM) operated by the UK National Environment Council, the HELISCAT helicopter-borne multifrequency microwave scatterometer of the University of Hamburg, and research vessels (R.V.s) from the University of Wales and the Dutch Rijkswaterstaat. The data we present were gathered on 24 April 1991 when calm wind conditions developed within the test area. A sequence of thermal infrared images gathered by the ATM provides a record of the motion of a frontal boundary through this experimental region which is then used to identify the frontal signature in the HELISCAT data. ATM sunglint images show that the front is characterized by a zone of reduced surface roughness, some 75m in width, which is detected on the 'upstream` side of the front (as defined relative to the tidal flow direction), where surface current convergence can be expected. Radar backscatter levels at X and C bands are reduced by 10 dB in this region but with increase in radar wavelength, the signature weakens and is rarely detected at L band. On crossing the front in the downstream direction, radar backscatter levels are rapidly restored. The available evidence indicates that the reduced backscatter signature is caused by a surface slick which is formed at the frontal interface rather than by short gravity wave damping from shear in local surface currents.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 1997

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