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Sea surface temperature (SST) fields obtained from the series of space-borne five-channel Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometers (AVHRRs) provide the longest continuous time series of global SST available to date (1981–present). As a result, these data have been used for many studies and significant effort has been devoted to their careful calibration in an effort to provide a climate quality data record. However, little attention has been given to the local precision of the SST retrievals obtained from these instruments, which we refer to as the pixel-to-pixel (p2p) variability, a characteristic important in the ability to resolve structures such as ocean fronts characterized by small gradients in the SST field. In this study, the p2p variability is estimated for Level-2 SST fields obtained with the Pathfinder retrieval algorithm for AVHRRs on NOAA-07, 9, 11, 12 and 14-19. These estimates are stratified by year, season, day/night and along-scan/along-track. The overall variability ranges from 0.10 K to 0.21 K. For each satellite, the along-scan variability is between 10 and 20% smaller than the along-track variability (except for NOAA-16 nighttime for which it is approximately 30% smaller) and the summer and fall ss are between 10 and 15% smaller than the winter and spring ss. The differences between along-track and along-scan are attributed to the way in which the instrument has been calibrated. The seasonal differences result from the T4 - T5 term in the Pathfinder retrieval algorithm. This term is shown to be a major contributor to the p2p variability and it is shown that its impact could be substantially reduced without a deleterious effect on the overall p2p s of the resulting products by spatially averaging it as part of the retrieval process. The AVHRR/3s (NOAA-15 through 19) were found to be relatively stable with trends in the p2p variability of at most 0.015 K/decade.

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