Drifter observations of submesoscale flow kinematics in the coastal ocean


Fronts and eddies identified with aerial guidance are seeded with drifters to quantify submesoscale flow kinematics. The Lagrangian observations show mean divergence and vorticity values that can exceed 5 times the Coriolis frequency. Values are the largest observed in the field to date and represent an extreme departure from geostrophic dynamics. The study also quantifies errors and biases associated with Lagrangian observations of the underlying velocity strain tensor. The greatest error results from undersampling, even with a large number of drifters. A significant bias comes from inhomogeneous sampling of convergent regions that accumulate drifters within a few hours of deployment. The study demonstrates a Lagrangian sampling paradigm for targeted submesoscale structures over a broad range of scales and presents flow kinematic values associated with vertical velocities O(10) m h−1 that can have profound implications on ocean biogeochemistry.
QR Code: Link to publication