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Ocean Science An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 05 Mar 2019

Submitted as: research article | 05 Mar 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal Ocean Science (OS).

Vertical Structure of Ocean Surface Currents Under High Winds from Massive Arrays of Drifters

John Lodise1, Tamay Özgökmen1, Annalisa Griffa2, and Maristella Berta2 John Lodise et al.
  • 1RSMAS, University of Miami, Miami, FL, 33149, USA
  • 2CNR-ISMAR, Lerici, Italy

Abstract. Very near surface ocean currents are dominated by wind and wave forcing and have large impacts on the transport of buoyant materials in the ocean, but have proved difficult to measure with many modern instrumentations. Here, observations of ocean currents at two depths within the first meter of the surface are made utilizing trajectory data from both drogued and undrogued CARTHE drifters, which have draft depths of 60 cm and 5 cm, respectively. Trajectory data of dense, co-located drogued and undrogued drifters, were collected during the LAgrangian Submesoscale ExpeRiment (LASER) that took place from January to March of 2016 in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Examination of the drifter velocities reveals that the surface currents become strongly wind- and wave-driven during periods of high wind, with the pre-existing regional circulation having a smaller, but non-negligible, influence on the total surface velocity. During these high wind events, we deconstruct the full surface current velocities captured by each drifter type into their wind- and wave-driven components after subtracting an estimate for the regional circulation which pre-exists each wind event. In order to capture the regional circulation in the absence of strong wind and wave forcing, a Lagrangian variational method is used to create hourly velocity fields for both drifter types separately, during the hours preceding each high wind event. Synoptic wind and wave output data from the Unified Wave INterface–Coupled Model (UWIN–CM), a fully coupled atmosphere, wave and ocean circulation model, are used for analysis. The wind-driven component of the surface current exhibits a rotation to the right with depth between the two surface layers measured. We find that the averaged wind-driven surface current from 0–5 cm (0–60 cm) travels at ~ 3.4–6.0 % (~ 2.3–4.1 %) of the wind speed, and is deflected ~ 5°–55° (~ 30–85°) to the right of the wind, reaching higher deflection angles at higher wind speeds. Results provide new insight to the vertical shear present in wind-driven surface currents under high winds, which have vital implications for any surface transport problem.

John Lodise et al.
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John Lodise et al.
John Lodise et al.
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Latest update: 17 Sep 2019
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Observations of ocean currents at two depths within the first meter of the surface are made using a large number of ocean drifters of two different draft depths (0–5 cm and 0–60 cm). We deconstruct the surface velocity measured by the drifters to calculate a purely wind-driven current in the two layers measured. We find significant velocity differences in the calculated wind-driven current between the sampled depths, which could have large implications for forecasting ocean surface transport.
Observations of ocean currents at two depths within the first meter of the surface are made...