A pragmatic Bayesian approach to wind field retrieval

  • David J. Evans

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The ERS-1 Satellite was launched in July 1991 by the European Space Agency into a polar orbit at about 800 km, carrying a C-band scatterometer. A scatterometer measures the amount of backscatter microwave radiation reflected by small ripples on the ocean surface induced by sea-surface winds, and so provides instantaneous snap-shots of wind flow over large areas of the ocean surface, known as wind fields. Inherent in the physics of the observation process is an ambiguity in wind direction; the scatterometer cannot distinguish if the wind is blowing toward or away from the sensor device. This ambiguity implies that there is a one-to-many mapping between scatterometer data and wind direction. Current operational methods for wind field retrieval are based on the retrieval of wind vectors from satellite scatterometer data, followed by a disambiguation and filtering process that is reliant on numerical weather prediction models. The wind vectors are retrieved by the local inversion of a forward model, mapping scatterometer observations to wind vectors, and minimising a cost function in scatterometer measurement space.
This thesis applies a pragmatic Bayesian solution to the problem. The likelihood is a combination of conditional probability distributions for the local wind vectors given the scatterometer data. The prior distribution is a vector Gaussian process that provides the geophysical consistency for the wind field.
The wind vectors are retrieved directly from the scatterometer data by using mixture density networks, a principled method to model multi-modal conditional probability density functions. The complexity of the mapping and the structure of the conditional probability density function are investigated. A hybrid mixture density network, that incorporates the knowledge that the conditional probability distribution of the observation process is predominantly bi-modal, is developed. The optimal model, which generalises across a swathe of scatterometer readings, is better on key performance measures than the current operational model.
Wind field retrieval is approached from three perspectives. The first is a non-autonomous method that confirms the validity of the model by retrieving the correct wind field 99% of the time from a test set of 575 wind fields. The second technique takes the maximum a posteriori probability wind field retrieved from the posterior distribution as the prediction. For the third technique, Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) techniques were employed to estimate the mass associated with significant modes of the posterior distribution, and make predictions based on the mode with the greatest mass associated with it. General methods for sampling from multi-modal distributions were benchmarked against a specific MCMC transition kernel designed for this problem. It was shown that the general methods were unsuitable for this application due to computational expense. On a test set of 100 wind fields the MAP estimate correctly retrieved 72 wind fields, whilst the sampling method correctly retrieved 73 wind fields.
Date of AwardAug 2001
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDan Cornford (Supervisor) & Ian T. Nabney (Supervisor)


  • wind vector retrieval
  • wind field retrieval
  • mixture density networks
  • pragmatic Bayesian model

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