Launch Of New Laboratory For Satellite OceanographyIncreasing wave height in the North Atlantic is a concern for many towns on the western coasts of Europe. During the past 20 years wave height has increased by over a metre, rendering many sea defences inadequate. These observations are made possible with the advent of satellite technology.

Reflecting the growth and expertise in this area of oceanography, Southampton Oceanography Centre is launching the new Laboratory for Satellite Oceanography, 2nd May 2001.

Prof Ian Robinson who will head up the new laboratory and a team of thirty scientists said: ‘Observations of the sea surface using satellites is providing scientists with information about the oceans’ impact on our environment, climate change and weather forecasting.’

Satellite sensors observe the sea’s surface, measuring many properties including temperature, colour and changes in height. The data reveal information about circulation, storms and even the biology of the oceans.

One of the recent success stories of satellite oceanography has been the detection of waves thousands of kilometres long, invisible to the naked eye but having powerful effects on circulation and climate.

The Laboratory for Satellite Oceanography researchers have found that these waves also affect the tiny phytoplankton cells suspended in the top layer of the oceans. Called Rossby waves, they can take years to cross the ocean basin. Despite being only a few centimetres high, Rossby waves can push the main currents off their usual course, wreaking havoc on weather and rain patterns.

The Laboratory scientists also study the more familiar waves breaking on the shoreline. Satellites can measure both waves and the wind that generates them across the expanse of the oceans.

Professor Robinson continued: ‘We are learning about how waves that reach our shores relate to weather patterns over the North Atlantic. The British Isles is ideally placed to exploit wave power, yet this same untamed power threatens our coastlines. The trend in waves over a few decades must be seen in the context of weather patterns over the last few centuries. Only by understanding how global warming alters natural variability can we make sensible climate predictions.’

Professor Carl Wunsch, a visiting scientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will be giving a keynote speech at the launch of the Laboratory for Satellite Oceanography. Professor Wunsch leads the field in the science of ocean circulation.

The launch of the Southampton Oceanography Centre Laboratory for Satellite Oceanography will take place at 2pm on Wednesday, 2nd May 2001.

A new LSO website can be found at

If you would like to attend the launch please contact Press Officer Kim Brown for more details on 023 8059 6170.

A brochure on satellite remote sensing has been produced to accompany the launch. Copies can be obtained on request.

Notes for Editors

Southampton Oceanography Centre is a joint venture between the University of Southampton and the Natural Environment Research Council

Contact Details:

Ms Kim Brown
Southampton Oceanography Centre
023 8059 6170