Journal of Oceanography

, Volume 75, Issue 6, pp 541–558 | Cite as

Observation of sea surface height using airborne radar altimetry: a new approach for large offshore tsunami detection

  • Tomoyuki HirobeEmail author
  • Yoshihiro Niwa
  • Takahiro Endoh
  • Iyan E. Mulia
  • Daisuke Inazu
  • Takero Yoshida
  • Hidee Tatehata
  • Akitsugu Nadai
  • Takuji Waseda
  • Toshiyuki Hibiya
Original Article


This study proposes the detection of large offshore tsunamis by airborne radar. Altimeter measurements were carried out south of Japan by an observational aircraft along the Jason satellite tracks crossing over the Kuroshio Current. A nadir-pointing frequency-modulated continuous wave (FM-CW) radar and a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) based positioning system were concurrently used to measure the sea surface height (SSH). The SSH was validated against the Jason-2 and Jason-3 satellite altimeter SSH. After the removal of the geoid and tidal signals, the observation error was less than 10 cm. This is sufficiently small to capture offshore tsunamis within 10 min after the genesis. This was demonstrated by virtual airborne radar-detected SSH from a numerically simulated hypothetical large offshore tsunami south of Japan. The feasibilities and limitations of utilizing commercial airplanes with altimeters to create a dense tsunami observation network are discussed. The suggested methodology can be adapted to various emerging airborne platforms such as unmanned aerial vehicles. Moreover, a dense coverage of SSH observations is invaluable from an oceanographic point of view.


Airborne observation Radar altimetry Sea surface height Offshore tsunami detection Global navigation satellite system 



This study is part of the Mega-Tsunami Project of UTokyo Ocean Alliance supported by the Nippon Foundation. The authors express their appreciation to the staff at the Diamond Air Service Inc., for operating the aircraft in this observations. We also thank H. Nohmi and A. Nohmi at the Alouette Technology Inc. for their support in the data analysis. The airborne observation data used for producing Fig. 7 are archived in the Zenodo repository: The satellite SSH data were obtained from the NASA EOSDIS Physical Oceanography Distributed Active Archive Center at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Jason-2;, Jason-3;


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Copyright information

© The Oceanographic Society of Japan and Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tomoyuki Hirobe
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Yoshihiro Niwa
    • 2
    • 10
  • Takahiro Endoh
    • 3
  • Iyan E. Mulia
    • 4
  • Daisuke Inazu
    • 5
  • Takero Yoshida
    • 6
  • Hidee Tatehata
    • 1
    • 2
  • Akitsugu Nadai
    • 7
    • 11
  • Takuji Waseda
    • 2
    • 8
  • Toshiyuki Hibiya
    • 2
    • 9
  1. 1.Japan Weather AssociationTokyoJapan
  2. 2.UTokyo Ocean AllianceThe University of TokyoChibaJapan
  3. 3.Research Institute for Applied MechanicsKyushu UniversityFukuokaJapan
  4. 4.Earthquake Research InstituteThe University of TokyoTokyoJapan
  5. 5.Department of Marine Resources and EnergyTokyo University of Marine Science and TechnologyTokyoJapan
  6. 6.Institute of Industrial ScienceThe University of TokyoChibaJapan
  7. 7.National Institute of Information and Communications TechnologyTokyoJapan
  8. 8.Department of Ocean Technology, Policy, and Environment, Graduate School of Frontier SciencesThe University of TokyoChibaJapan
  9. 9.Department of Earth and Planetary Science, Graduate School of ScienceThe University of TokyoTokyoJapan
  10. 10.Center for Ocean Literacy and Education, Graduate School of EducationThe University of TokyoTokyoJapan
  11. 11.Okinawa Electromagnetic Technology CenterNational Institute of Information and Communications TechnologyOkinawaJapan

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