Estimation of Velocity from Argos-tracked Surface Drifters during OCEAN STORMS

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  • 1 Applied Physics Laboratory and School of Oceanography, College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

Modern surface drifters tracked by Argos are an attractive method for measuring the spatial structure of near-surface currents. This note discusses the accuracy to which velocity can be estimated from such data, assuming perfect drifters. The analysis concentrates on data from OCEAN STORMS centered at 47.5°N in the eastern North Pacific, a region of low mesoscale activity. The irregular, but nearly diurnally repeating, pattern of fixes leads to leakage between near-inertial (1.48 cpd) and subinertial (0.5 cpd) frequencies. Total spectral leakage for a naive spline interpolant of the fixes is about 2×10−3 in energy, or 5% in amplitude. Other interpolants can produce an order of magnitude more leakage. An algorithm that controls these errors is described. Only an inertial peak and frequencies well below 0.5 cpd can be resolved. The remaining noise can be described as the sum of a random fix error of 600 m rms and unresolved subinertial velocities with an rms displacement of about 550 m. The errors in the computed inertial and low-frequency velocities are 0.03 and 0.01 m s−1, respectively. These can be reduced with further time averaging. Significantly better estimates of velocities would require both more accurate and more frequent position fixes.

Abstract

Modern surface drifters tracked by Argos are an attractive method for measuring the spatial structure of near-surface currents. This note discusses the accuracy to which velocity can be estimated from such data, assuming perfect drifters. The analysis concentrates on data from OCEAN STORMS centered at 47.5°N in the eastern North Pacific, a region of low mesoscale activity. The irregular, but nearly diurnally repeating, pattern of fixes leads to leakage between near-inertial (1.48 cpd) and subinertial (0.5 cpd) frequencies. Total spectral leakage for a naive spline interpolant of the fixes is about 2×10−3 in energy, or 5% in amplitude. Other interpolants can produce an order of magnitude more leakage. An algorithm that controls these errors is described. Only an inertial peak and frequencies well below 0.5 cpd can be resolved. The remaining noise can be described as the sum of a random fix error of 600 m rms and unresolved subinertial velocities with an rms displacement of about 550 m. The errors in the computed inertial and low-frequency velocities are 0.03 and 0.01 m s−1, respectively. These can be reduced with further time averaging. Significantly better estimates of velocities would require both more accurate and more frequent position fixes.

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