Sea surface temperature (SST) fields obtained from the series of space-borne five-channel Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometers (AVHRRs) provide the longest continuous time series of global SST available to date (1981–present). As a result, these data have been used for many studies and significant effort has been devoted to their careful calibration in an effort to provide a climate quality data record. However, little attention has been given to the local precision of the SST retrievals obtained from these instruments, which we refer to as the pixel-to-pixel (p2p) variability, a characteristic important in the ability to resolve structures such as ocean fronts characterized by small gradients in the SST field. In this study, the p2p variability is estimated for Level-2 SST fields obtained with the Pathfinder retrieval algorithm for AVHRRs on NOAA-07, 9, 11, 12 and 14-19. These estimates are stratified by year, season, day/night and along-scan/along-track. The overall variability ranges from 0.10 K to 0.21 K. For each satellite, the along-scan variability is between 10 and 20% smaller than the along-track variability (except for NOAA-16 nighttime for which it is approximately 30% smaller) and the summer and fall
s are between 10 and 15% smaller than the winter and spring
s. The differences between along-track and along-scan are attributed to the way in which the instrument has been calibrated. The seasonal differences result from the
term in the Pathfinder retrieval algorithm. This term is shown to be a major contributor to the p2p variability and it is shown that its impact could be substantially reduced without a deleterious effect on the overall p2p
of the resulting products by spatially averaging it as part of the retrieval process. The AVHRR/3s (NOAA-15 through 19) were found to be relatively stable with trends in the p2p variability of at most 0.015 K/decade.
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