Sentinel-2A catches a wave ... from space

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Reflection of solar radiation by the sea surface reveals the complex patterns of waves as they interact with the coastline and seafloor(Credit: Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by OceanDataLab)

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Hot on the heels of its cloud-free image of Africa, the European Space Agency's Sentinel-2A has captured an image of waves hitting Dorre Island, Western Australia. The picture provides more information on how waves interact with the coastline, proving the potential benefits of satellite imaging in forecasting waves.

According to ESA, it can be difficult to measure ocean waves using buoys and ships. This poses a problem for engineers designing ships or offshore structures, because they need to know their designs will be able to handle the worst possible conditions out at sea. Ocean waves also slow ships down, threaten oil and gas extraction and erode coastlines.

As well as surface waves, which are caused by the wind blowing across the ocean surface, internal waves, currents, eddies and algal blooms all contribute to the way the ocean moves. This makes it tough to form an accurate picture of where the waves are heading, and what's making them do it.

In Sentinel-2A's image, the reflection of the sunlight provides a good look at the complex patterns formed by waves hitting the coast of Dorre Island. The picture shows waves that have been reflected and bent by the seabed and coastal features of the island, along with breakers rolling all the way to the shoreline.

Interesting as this is, the real benefit of the image, taken on October 1, 2015, comes by taking full advantage of the Sentinel's multispectral camera. The data captured allows ocean scientists to determine the distribution of the waves, as well working out which direction they're heading.

"Scientists at OceanDataLab processed the data to determine the distribution of ocean waves and the direction they are heading," says the ESA's Craig Donlon. "This is extremely important for anyone working at sea."

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