As the "storm of the century" hit the eastern part of the United States on March 14, giant waves measuring up to approximately 40 feet (12 meters) high were observed in the North Atlantic by the U.S.-French Topex/Poseidon satellite.
The highest waves measured by the radar altimeter onboard the satellite were observed halfway between the United States and Europe at the latitude of New York City -- approximately 41 degrees north. Strong winds of 45 miles per hour (20 meters per second) also were recorded in the vicinity of the high waves.
"The Topex/Poseidon mission studies the dynamics of the world's ocean currents by measuring the shape of the sea surface using a radar altimeter," said Dr. Lee Fu, project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
"The height of the waves and the speed of the wind over the ocean also are measured by the radar as byproducts of the mission," he continued. Measuring sea level allows oceanographers to study changes in ocean currents and global circulation and to determine how those changing currents affect world climate.
In related activities, scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory in Mississippi report that their recent analysis of Topex/Poseidon data, as well as measurement taken by tide gauges and buoys confirms that the Kelvin wave pulse that they predicted in February has arrived at the South American coast as they anticipated.
A Kelvin wave is a large warm water mass that moves along the equator in the Pacific Ocean. These pulses sometimes contribute to El Nio conditions in the eastern equatorial Pacific.
JPL manages the NASA portion of the Topex/Poseidon mission for NASA's Office of Mission to Planet Earth. Launched Aug. 10, 1992 from Kourou, French Guiana, Topex/Poseidon is the second satellite in the Mission to Planet Earth Program, NASA's longterm effort to study Earth as a global environmental system.
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