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Detailed understanding of submesoscale processes and their role in global ocean circulation is constrained, in part, by the lack of global observational datasets of sufficiently high resolution. Here, the potential of thermosalinograph (TSG) and Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) data is evaluated, to characterize the submesoscale structure of the near-surface temperature fields in the Gulf Stream and Sargasso Sea. In addition to spectral density, the structure function is considered, a statistical measure less susceptible to data gaps, which are common in the satellite-derived fields. The structure function is found to be an unreliable estimator, especially for steep spectral slopes, nominally between 2 and 3, typical of the Gulf Stream and Sargasso regions. A quality-control threshold is developed based on the number and size of gaps to ensure reliable spectral density estimates. Analysis of the impact of gaps in the VIIRS data on the spectra shows that both the number of missing values and the size of gaps affect the results, and that the steeper the spectral slope the more significant the impact. Furthermore, the TSG, with a nominal resolution of 75 m, captures the spectral characteristics of the fields in both regions down to scales substantially smaller than 1 km, while the VIIRS fields, with a nominal resolution of 750 m, reproduce the spectra well down to scales of about 20 km in the Sargasso Sea and 5 km in the Gulf Stream. The scales at which the VIIRS and TSG spectra diverge are thought to be determined by sensor and retrieval noise.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.