Categories: Spatial Analysis

Understanding Ocean Wave Patterns from Satellite Imagery of Sun Glitter

A two part article in AGU Publications analyzes how sun glitter captured by satellite imagery can be processed to understand ocean wave patterns.  Researchers have developed a method by which to translate Sentinel-2 imagery of sun glitter on the water into data about the direction, height and movement of waves.


Understanding wave patterns is an important component of designing ships for safe seafaring.  Rough waves also affect the speed of shipping, erode coastlines, and have an impact on the exchange of gases between the ocean and atmosphere [1].

In June of 2016, the European Space Agency enacted the Scientific Assessment of Ocean Glitter project (SArONG) to understand how satellite products can be used to measure wave patterns.  The authors of the AGU articles built on this project to map out wave patterns off the coast of Dorre Island in Western Australia.

Area studied: Dorre Island and Shark Bay off the coast of Australia. Map: ESA and Wikipedia.

Using data collected from Sentinel-2’s multispectral cameras at a high resolution of 10m, the researchers were able to create a detailed map of ocean waves and the interactions with currents for this area of the world known for its treacherous ocean conditions. Vladimir Kudryavstev from the Russian State Hydrometeorological University’s Satellite Oceanography Laboratory explains, “Using data collected in January 2016, we traced the behaviour of ocean waves and their interactions with currents. We found that ocean surface currents transform dominant surface waves, which are the tallest surface waves in a given area, driven by local wind and large-scale swells. They also showed how wave packets can be deflected and trapped by ocean surface currents, creating surface waves that are much higher than normal.”

Sun glitter in the western Mediterranean Sea from Sentinel-2A . Image: modified Copernicus Sentinel data, ESA, 2016.



[1]. Sun glitter reveals coastal waves.  ESA, May 19, 2016.


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