Advances in L-band microwave satellite radiometry in the past decade, pioneered by ESA's SMOS and NASA's Aquarius and SMAP missions, have demonstrated an unprecedented capability to observe global sea surface salinity (SSS) from space. Measurements from these missions are the only means to probe the very-near surface salinity (top cm), providing a unique monitoring capability for the interfacial exchanges of water between the atmosphere and the upper-ocean, and delivering a wealth of information on various salinity processes in the ocean, linkages with the climate and water cycle, including land-sea connections, and providing constraints for ocean prediction models. The satellite SSS data are complimentary to the existing in situ systems such as Argo that provide accurate depiction of large-scale salinity variability in the open ocean but under-sample mesoscale variability, coastal oceans and marginal seas, and energetic regions such as boundary currents and fronts. In particular, salinity remote sensing has proven valuable to systematically monitor the open oceans as well as coastal regions up to approximately 40 km from the coasts. This is critical to addressing societally relevant topics, such as land-sea linkages, coastal-open ocean exchanges, research in the carbon cycle, near-surface mixing, and air-sea exchange of gas and mass. In this paper, we provide a community perspective on the major achievements of satellite SSS for the aforementioned topics, the unique capability of satellite salinity observing system and its complementarity with other platforms, uncertainty characteristics of satellite SSS, and measurement versus sampling errors in relation to in situ salinity measurements. We also discuss the need for technological innovations to improve the accuracy, resolution, and coverage of satellite SSS, and the way forward to both continue and enhance salinity remote sensing as part of the integrated Earth Observing System in order to address societal needs.
Frontiers in Marine Science (e-ISSN 2296-7745)