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Surface Wave Measurements from Subsurface Floats

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  • 1 Applied Physics Laboratory, and School of Oceanography, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

Pressure gradient measurements on a subsurface Lagrangian float are used to measure the spectrum of surface waves for 100 days of measurements at Ocean Weather Station Papa. Along Lagrangian trajectories of surface waves, the pressure is constant and the vertical pressure gradient fluctuations equal the Eulerian fluctuations at the mean float depth to second order in wave height. Measurement of the pressure difference between the top and the bottom of the float can thus be used to measure the waves. Corrections for the wave decay with depth, for the vertical motion of the float, for the finite sampling interval, and for the sampling noise (among others) are necessary to obtain accurate results. With these corrections, scalar spectra accurately match those from a nearby Waverider buoy for significant wave heights greater than about 3 m. For smaller wave heights, noise in the pressure measurements biases the float spectral measurements. Significant wave height is measured with an rms error of 0.37 m over the measured range of 1–9 m. This demonstrates that Lagrangian floats accurately follow the Lagrangian trajectories of surface waves. More detailed and quieter measurements of float motion could likely measure directional wave spectra from below the surface. Similar methods could be used to infer surface wave properties from other subsurface vehicles.

Corresponding author address: Eric D’Asaro, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, 1013 NE 40th Street, Seattle, WA 98105-6698. E-mail: dasaro@apl.washington.edu

Abstract

Pressure gradient measurements on a subsurface Lagrangian float are used to measure the spectrum of surface waves for 100 days of measurements at Ocean Weather Station Papa. Along Lagrangian trajectories of surface waves, the pressure is constant and the vertical pressure gradient fluctuations equal the Eulerian fluctuations at the mean float depth to second order in wave height. Measurement of the pressure difference between the top and the bottom of the float can thus be used to measure the waves. Corrections for the wave decay with depth, for the vertical motion of the float, for the finite sampling interval, and for the sampling noise (among others) are necessary to obtain accurate results. With these corrections, scalar spectra accurately match those from a nearby Waverider buoy for significant wave heights greater than about 3 m. For smaller wave heights, noise in the pressure measurements biases the float spectral measurements. Significant wave height is measured with an rms error of 0.37 m over the measured range of 1–9 m. This demonstrates that Lagrangian floats accurately follow the Lagrangian trajectories of surface waves. More detailed and quieter measurements of float motion could likely measure directional wave spectra from below the surface. Similar methods could be used to infer surface wave properties from other subsurface vehicles.

Corresponding author address: Eric D’Asaro, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, 1013 NE 40th Street, Seattle, WA 98105-6698. E-mail: dasaro@apl.washington.edu
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