Human Observation of Oceanographic
The sun's reflection from the surface of the sea, referred to as sun glitter,
has proven to be the most valuable tool in the visual observation of the
ocean from space. Not only can the fine details of near-shore turbulence
be examined. but it is the only method by which dynamics in the open
ocean and around islands can be seen.
Phenomena from Space
In the golden center of the sun's reflection,
a smooth sea surface reflects brighter than a sea roughened by waves.
The sun is reflecting directly to the observer as it would from a mirror.
This is known as "forward reflection" and permits observing and
photographing the ocean's surface (Cox and Munk, 1954).
Sea slicks or water moving with the
wind reflect brightly, whereas water flowing against the wind, producing
choppy waves on the surface, has a diffuse, dull reflection. Not only are
these reflective differences easily seen but they photograph well. They
have been recorded also by weather satellites and synthetic aperture radars.
On the edge of the sun's reflection, the
golden colors change to blues. In this part of the glitter pattern, smooth
water has a dark color and roughened water has a light blue color. The
glare into the lens, of both eye and camera, is far less on the edge of the
reflection than in the very center. As a result, fine details of sea-surface
turbulence can be lost in the central glare of the sun's reflection. The edge
of the reflection field offers the best opportunity to observe complex ocean
surface phenomena (Sculley-Power, 1986).