The Influence of Fetch on the Response of Surface Currents to Wind Studied by HF Ocean Surface Radar

Yadan Mao School of Mathematics, Physics and IT, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia

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Malcolm L. Heron Marine Geophysical Laboratory, James Cook University, and AIMS@JCU, Townsville, Queensland, Australia

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Abstract

The momentum transfer from wind to sea generates surface currents through both the wind shear stress and the Stokes drift induced by waves. This paper addresses issues in the interpretation of HF radar measurements of surface currents and momentum transfer from air to sea. Surface current data over a 30-day period from HF ocean surface radar are used to study the response of surface currents to wind. Two periods of relatively constant wind are identified—one for the short-fetch condition and the other for the long-fetch condition. Results suggest that the ratio of surface current speed to wind speed is larger under the long-fetch condition, while the angle between the surface current vector and wind vector is larger under the short-fetch condition. Data analysis shows that the Stokes drift dominates the surface currents under the long-fetch condition when the sea state is more mature, while the Stokes drifts and Ekman-type currents play almost equally important roles in the total currents under the short-fetch condition. The ratios of Stokes drift to wind speed under these two fetch conditions are shown to agree well with results derived from the empirical wave growth function. These results suggest that fetch, and therefore sea state, significantly influences the total response of surface current to wind in both the magnitude and direction by variations in the significance of Stokes drift. Furthermore, this work provides observational evidence that surface currents measured by HF radar include Stokes drift. It demonstrates the potential of HF radar in addressing the issue of momentum transfer from air to sea under various environmental conditions.

Corresponding author address: Yadan Mao, School of Engineering, James Cook University, Townsville 4811 QLD, Australia. Email: yadan.mao@jcu.edu.au

Abstract

The momentum transfer from wind to sea generates surface currents through both the wind shear stress and the Stokes drift induced by waves. This paper addresses issues in the interpretation of HF radar measurements of surface currents and momentum transfer from air to sea. Surface current data over a 30-day period from HF ocean surface radar are used to study the response of surface currents to wind. Two periods of relatively constant wind are identified—one for the short-fetch condition and the other for the long-fetch condition. Results suggest that the ratio of surface current speed to wind speed is larger under the long-fetch condition, while the angle between the surface current vector and wind vector is larger under the short-fetch condition. Data analysis shows that the Stokes drift dominates the surface currents under the long-fetch condition when the sea state is more mature, while the Stokes drifts and Ekman-type currents play almost equally important roles in the total currents under the short-fetch condition. The ratios of Stokes drift to wind speed under these two fetch conditions are shown to agree well with results derived from the empirical wave growth function. These results suggest that fetch, and therefore sea state, significantly influences the total response of surface current to wind in both the magnitude and direction by variations in the significance of Stokes drift. Furthermore, this work provides observational evidence that surface currents measured by HF radar include Stokes drift. It demonstrates the potential of HF radar in addressing the issue of momentum transfer from air to sea under various environmental conditions.

Corresponding author address: Yadan Mao, School of Engineering, James Cook University, Townsville 4811 QLD, Australia. Email: yadan.mao@jcu.edu.au

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