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L. C. Bender III
N. L. Guinasso Jr.
J. N. Walpert
, and
S. D. Howden


In August 2005, the eye of Hurricane Katrina passed 90 km to the west of a 3-m discus buoy deployed in the Mississippi Sound and operated by the Central Gulf of Mexico Ocean Observing System (CenGOOS). The buoy motions were measured with a strapped-down, 6 degrees of freedom accelerometer, a three-axis magnetometer, and from the displacement of a GPS antenna measured by postprocessed-kinematic GPS. Recognizing that an accelerometer experiences a large offset due to gravity, the authors investigated four different means of computing wave heights. In the most widely used method for a buoy with a strapped-down, 1D accelerometer, wave heights are overestimated by 26% on average and up to 56% during the peak of the hurricane. In the second method, the component of gravity is removed from the deck relative z-axis accelerations, requiring pitch and roll information. This is most similar to the motion of the GPS antenna and reduces the overestimation to only 5% on average. In the third method, the orientation data are used to obtain a very accurate estimate of the vertical acceleration, reducing the overestimation of wave heights to 1%. The fourth method computes an estimate of the true earth-referenced vertical accelerations using the accelerations from all three axes but not the pitch and roll information. It underestimates the wave heights by 2.5%. The fifth method uses the acceleration from all three axes and the pitch and roll information to obtain the earth-referenced vertical acceleration of the buoy, the most accurate measure of the true wave vertical acceleration. The primary conclusion of this work is that the measured deck relative accelerations from a strapped-down, 1D accelerometer must be tilt corrected in environments of high wave heights.

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