High-resolution, four-dimensional mapping of currents in tidally dominated coastal settings can be conducted with a range of instrumentation. Here, we assess four approaches to data collection: an X-band radar, a stationary (bottom mounted) acoustic Doppler current profiler (ADCP), a mobile (vessel based) ADCP, and a swarm of Lagrangian floats. Using the output from a hydrodynamic simulation, a virtual field campaign was performed at 24 locations in Admiralty Inlet, Puget Sound, Washington, during spring and neap tidal exchanges. A reconstruction of the volumetric currents was generated for each platform every 15 min and evaluated against the true currents to assess accuracy over a horizontal extent of 400 m × 500 m at 5 m resolution and vertically through the entire water column (20–80 m) at 2 m resolution. Results demonstrate that, for this survey extent and resolution, a vessel-based ADCP survey is most accurate, followed closely by the float swarm. The overall performance hierarchy persists over most locations and times. Thus, if mapping currents at high resolution (<10 m) and short time scales (<1 day) is the primary scientific objective, vessel-based ADCP surveys are likely the best option. For longer-duration surveys, a combined deployment with a stationary ADCP and X-band radar system is the best choice. Last, if in situ measurements of scalar properties (e.g., salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen) are also desired, float swarms can simultaneously sample these while surveying currents with accuracy comparable to mobile ADCPs.

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