Global Mesoscale Ocean Variability from Multiyear Altimetry: An Analysis of the Influencing Factors
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Global Mesoscale Ocean Variability from Multiyear Altimetry: An Analysis of the Influencing Factors

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Abstract Sea surface slope (SSS) responds to oceanic processes and other environmental parameters. This study aims to identify the parameters that influence SSS variability. We use SSS calculated from multiyear satellite altimeter observations and focus on small resolvable scales in the 30–100-km wavelength band. First, we revisit the correlation of mesoscale ocean variability with seafloor roughness as a function of depth, as proposed by Gille et al. Our results confirm that in shallow water there is statistically significant positive correlation between rough bathymetry and surface variability, whereas the opposite is true in the deep ocean. In the next step, we assemble 27 features as input variables to fit the SSS with a linear regression model and a boosted trees regression model, and then we make predictions. Model performance metrics for the linear regression model are R2 = 0.381 and mean square error = 0.010 μrad2. For the boosted trees model, R2 = 0.563 and mean square error = 0.007 μrad2. Using the hold-out data, we identify the most important influencing factors to be the distance to the nearest thermocline boundary, significant wave height, mean dynamic topography gradient, and M2 tidal speed. However, there are individual regions, that is, the Amazon outflow, that cannot be predicted by our model, suggesting that these regions are governed by processes that are not represented in our input features. The results highlight both the value of machine learning and its shortcomings in identifying mechanisms governing oceanic phenomena.

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