Earlier studies of spatial variability in sea surface temperature (SST) using ship-based radiometric data suggested that variability at scales smaller than 1 km is significant and affects the perceived uncertainty of satellite-derived SSTs. Here, we compare data from the Ball Experimental Sea Surface Temperature (BESST) thermal infrared radiometer flown over the Arctic Ocean against coincident Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) measurements to assess the spatial variability of skin SSTs within 1-km pixels. By taking the standard deviation, σ, of the BESST measurements within individual MODIS pixels, we show that significant spatial variability of the skin temperature exists. The distribution of the surface variability measured by BESST shows a peak value of O
(0.1) K, with 95% of the pixels showing σ < 0.45 K. Significantly, high-variability pixels are located at density fronts in the marginal ice zone, which are a primary source of submesoscale intermittency near the surface. SST wavenumber spectra indicate a spectral slope of −2, which is consistent with the presence of submesoscale processes at the ocean surface. Furthermore, the BESST wavenumber spectra not only match the energy distribution of MODIS SST spectra at the satellite-resolved wavelengths, they also span the spectral slope of −2 by ~3 decades, from wavelengths of 8 km to <0.08 km.
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