Recent satellite altimeter retracking and filtering methods have
considerably reduced the noise level in estimates of the significant
wave height (Hs), allowing to study processes with smaller spatial
scales. In particular, previous studies have shown that wave-current
interactions may explain most of the variability of Hs at scales 20 to
100 km. As the spatial scale of the measurement is reduced, random
fluctuations emerge that should be associated to wave groups. Here we
quantify the magnitude of this effect, and the contribution of wave
groups to the uncertainty in Hs measurements by altimeters, with a
particular focus on extreme extra-tropical storms.
We take advantage of the low orbit altitude of the China-France Ocean
Satellite (CFOSAT), and the low noise level of the nadir beam of the
Our estimate of wave group effects uses directional wave spectra
measured by off-nadir beams on SWIM and signal processing theory that
gives statistical properties of the wave envelope, and thus the local
wave heights, from the shape of the wave spectrum.
We find that the standard deviation of Hs associated to wave groups is a
function of satellite altitude, wave height and spectral bandwidth.
For CFOSAT these fluctuations generally account for about 25% of the
variance measured over a 80 km distance. This fraction is largest in
storms and in the presence of long swells. When the estimated effect of
wave groups is subtracted from the measured Hs variance, the remaining
variability is higher in regions of strong currents.