Using Drifter Velocity Measurements to Assess and Constrain Coarse-Resolution Ocean Models

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  • 1 Atmospheric and Environmental Research, Inc., Lexington, MA, USA
  • 2 Atmospheric and Environmental Research, Inc., Lexington, MA, USA
  • 3 Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA
  • 4 Physical Oceanography Division, NOAA/Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, Miami, Florida, USA
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Abstract

Properly fitting ocean models to observations is crucial for improving model performance and understanding ocean dynamics. Near-surface velocity measurements from the Global Drifter Program (GDP) contain valuable information about upper ocean circulation and air-sea fluxes on various space and time scales. This study explores whether GDP measurements can be used for usefully constraining the surface circulation from coarse-resolution ocean models, using global solutions produced by the consortium for Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean (ECCO) as an example. To address this problem, a careful examination of velocity data errors is required. Comparisons between an ECCO model simulation, performed without any data constraints, and GDP and Ocean Surface Current Analyses Real-time (OSCAR) velocity data, over the period 1992–2017, reveal considerable differences in magnitude and pattern. These comparisons are used to estimate GDP data errors in the context of the time-mean and time-variable surface circulations. Both instrumental errors and errors associated with limitations in model physics and resolution (representation errors) are considered. Given the estimated model-data differences, errors and signal-to-noise ratios, our results indicate that constraining ocean state estimates to GDP can have a substantial impact on the ECCO large-scale time-mean surface circulation over extensive areas. Impact of GDP data constraints on the ECCO time-variable circulation would be weaker and mainly limited to low latitudes. Representation errors contribute substantially to degrading the data impacts.

Corresponding author: Mengnan Zhao, mzhao@aer.com

Abstract

Properly fitting ocean models to observations is crucial for improving model performance and understanding ocean dynamics. Near-surface velocity measurements from the Global Drifter Program (GDP) contain valuable information about upper ocean circulation and air-sea fluxes on various space and time scales. This study explores whether GDP measurements can be used for usefully constraining the surface circulation from coarse-resolution ocean models, using global solutions produced by the consortium for Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean (ECCO) as an example. To address this problem, a careful examination of velocity data errors is required. Comparisons between an ECCO model simulation, performed without any data constraints, and GDP and Ocean Surface Current Analyses Real-time (OSCAR) velocity data, over the period 1992–2017, reveal considerable differences in magnitude and pattern. These comparisons are used to estimate GDP data errors in the context of the time-mean and time-variable surface circulations. Both instrumental errors and errors associated with limitations in model physics and resolution (representation errors) are considered. Given the estimated model-data differences, errors and signal-to-noise ratios, our results indicate that constraining ocean state estimates to GDP can have a substantial impact on the ECCO large-scale time-mean surface circulation over extensive areas. Impact of GDP data constraints on the ECCO time-variable circulation would be weaker and mainly limited to low latitudes. Representation errors contribute substantially to degrading the data impacts.

Corresponding author: Mengnan Zhao, mzhao@aer.com
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