Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Aerospace Engineering Sciences

First Advisor

Robert Leben

Second Advisor

Steve Nerem

Third Advisor

William Emery

Abstract

Whether on the short timescale of an impending tsunami or the much longer timescale of climate change-driven sea level rise, the threat stemming from rising and inundating ocean waters is a great concern to coastal populations. Timely and accurate observations of potentially dangerous changes in sea level are vital in determining the precautionary steps that need to be taken in order to protect coastal communities. While instruments from the past have provided in situ measurements of sea level at specific locations across the globe, satellites can be used to provide improved spatial and temporal sampling of the ocean in addition to producing more accurate measurements. Since 1993, satellite altimetry has provided accurate measurements of sea surface height (SSH) with near-global coverage. Not only have these measurements led to the first definitive estimates of global mean sea level rise, satellite altimetry observations have also been used to detect tsunami waves in the open ocean where wave amplitudes are relatively small, a vital step in providing early warning to those potentially affected by the impending tsunami.

The use of satellite altimetry to monitor two specific sea level hazards is examined in this thesis. The first section will focus on the detection of tsunamis in the open ocean for the purpose of providing early warning to coastal inhabitants. The second section will focus on estimating secular trends using satellite altimetry data with the hope of improving our understanding of future sea level change. Results presented here will show the utility of satellite altimetry for sea level monitoring and will lay the foundation for further advancement in the detection of the two sea level hazards considered.

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