Radar altimeters have so far had limited use in the coastal zone, the area with most societal impact. This is due to both lack of, or insufficient accuracy in the necessary corrections, and more complicated altimeter signals. This paper examines waveform data from the Envisat RA-2 as it passes regularly over Pianosa (a 10 km2 island in the NW Mediterranean). Forty-six repeat passes were analysed, with most showing a reduction in signal upon passing over the island, with weak early returns corresponding to the reflections from land. Intriguingly one third of cases showed an anomalously bright hyperbolic feature. This feature may be due to extremely calm waters in the Golfo della Botte (northern side of the island), but the cause of its intermittency is not clear. The modelling of waveforms in such a complex land/sea environment demonstrates the potential for sea surface height retrievals much closer to the coast than is achieved by routine processing. The long-term development of altimetric records in the coastal zone will not only improve the calibration of altimetric data with coastal tide gauges, but also greatly enhance the study of storm surges and other coastal phenomena
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