A comparison of GOCE and drifter-based estimates of the North Atlantic steady-state surface circulation

Rory J. Bingham*, Keith Haines, Daniel Lea

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Over the last decade, due to the Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission and, more recently, the Gravity and steady state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) mission, our ability to measure the ocean's mean dynamic topography (MDT) from space has improved dramatically. Here we use GOCE to measure surface current speeds in the North Atlantic and compare our results with a range of independent estimates that use drifter data to improve small scales. We find that, with filtering, GOCE can recover 70% of the Gulf Steam strength relative to the best drifter-based estimates. In the subpolar gyre the boundary currents obtained from GOCE are close to the drifter-based estimates. Crucial to this result is careful filtering which is required to remove small-scale errors, or noise, in the computed surface. We show that our heuristic noise metric, used to determine the degree of filtering, compares well with the quadratic sum of mean sea surface and formal geoid errors obtained from the error variance-covariance matrix associated with the GOCE gravity model. At a resolution of 100 km the North Atlantic mean GOCE MDT error before filtering is 5 cm with almost all of this coming from the GOCE gravity model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)140-150
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation
Issue numberPA
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


  • Mean dynamic topography
  • North Atlantic
  • Ocean currents

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