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Oceanography

The Official Magazine of the Oceanography Society

CITATION
Dohan, K., and N. Maximenko. 2010. Monitoring ocean currents with satellite sensors.
Oceanography 23(4):94–103, doi:10.5670/oceanog.2010.08.

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This article has been published in Oceanography, Volume 23, Number 4, a quarterly journal of
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motion description is far from complete. set and exploitation of the Doppler shift in radar fields. method involves using remotely sensed fields of sea surface height. are only one kind of fast narrow currents (on the order of local currents. Large-scale surface motions motion. This surface Current System spectra of spatial and temporal scales. Here. with an intensified upcoming missions and advancements in satellite oceanography that will change our western boundary current and broader understanding of surface currents in the next 10 years. One define the motions’ characteristics.T h e F u t u r e o f O c e a n o g r a p h y F r o m S pa c e B y K at h l e e n D o h a n a nd N i k o l a i M a x i m e nk o Monitoring Ocean Currents with Satellite Sensors Abstr ac t. and These “gyres” have the basic form of a overcoming sensor limitations near coasts. to submesoscale features scales. together involves determining surface velocity from paths of drifting surface buoys transmitted with Earth’s rotation and the restriction to satellite sensors. eddies. include measuring small and fast processes. such as the and sea surface temperature within a physical model to produce currents. including basin-wide gyres. The interconnected ocean surface current system involves multiple 100-km wide). satellite systems provide that induce the motions as well as from us with global and regional maps of the ocean surface’s mesoscale motion (larger differences in the underlying physics that than 100 km).4 . to mesoscale however. than 1 m). Another trade winds and the westerlies. To understand the full system requires measuring a range of motions. and time scales from those that from differences in the kinds of forcings are climate related (decades) to daily processes. fast narrow boundary currents. Breaking waves at its surface. No. and (1–100 km in scale). a eddies (scales greater than 100 km) and consist of a complex interconnection of symbol of the sea. surface winds. Surface currents are measured indirectly from satellite systems. The differences in scale result from thousands of kilometers to less than a meter. eastern boundary current. The challenges for progress up the general ocean surface circulation.23. Prevailing global winds. Other types span the continuous (1947) and Stommel (1948). and turbulence. eddies. to turbulence (less turbulence. The ocean is unimaginable without from basin-wide motions. 94 Oceanography | Vol. Additional methods include tracking of surface features of flow by continental boundaries. Presently. we detail the challenges as well as flow around a basin. the theories of which were developed by Sverdrup The Surface motion. capturing the vertical variation.

Schematic of the hierarchy of near-surface currents focused on the Gulf Stream erties among basins. and thus is crucial for the exchange of prop. nutrients. qualitatively different than the rest of the mixing. the small scales (less than local currents have been observed for speed of motion. and creating strong fronts and jets. flowing entirely around Antarctica and inhibiting north- south heat transport. be deflected to the right (left) in the filaments. 1990). and Indian oceans. are also intense. are also important to the surface and global measurements of the complex Equatorial dynamics are. Global winds drive basin circulation. 100 km) and fast processes (less than a centuries for purposes such as navigation with large scales being more affected day to evolve). In addition to heat. fast. and are scale waves (1000–2000-km wavelength) scales. surface waves. (2010). in particular El Niño and for studying ocean surface dynamics. The gyre circulation consists of a broad eastern Earth’s rotation causes motions to component and a narrow. due local Ekman currents. and marine life. CO2). For example. called the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC). Large. Atlantic. are often less than 100-km wide.g. the motion of this current is similar to that of wind. In the Southern Ocean however. these boundary currents transport momentum. with predominantly zonal flows vertical motions. The WBC is enlarged to highlight the mesoscale (100 km and larger) features and the submesoscale eddies. and fishing. at speeds on the order south) temperature gradients. waves. small eddies. and surface sensing has provided us with regular the equator and strongest at the poles. not only for stirring and ocean surface motions. and turbulence. chemical components (e.Figure 1 shows a schematic of this to the Coriolis force. Oceanography | December 2010 95 . western boundary current (WBC). The ACC is the only current that connects the Pacific. or 175 km day -1. the Gulf Stream fronts. WBCs eventually separate from the coasts and extend into the open ocean. Because of the complexity of behavior. the advent of satellite remote than small. With no continents to force boundary currents. surface current hierarchy. Figure 1. They (east-west) and large meridional (north. A full discussion of the global peak in eddy kinetic energy in the areas of the extensions can be found in Fu et al. therefore. The extent of the La Niña (Philander. forming large meanders that shed large eddies. the westerlies force a strong current that flows from east to west. Although rotation depends on length scales and Finally. North America) transports warm waters toward the western coast of Europe. while local winds force Northern (Southern) Hemisphere. transport. for example. current system.. the range of temporal and spatial of 2 m s-1. as well as on latitude. turbulence. The Coriolis force is zero at filaments. and turbulence. region in the North Atlantic Ocean. but also for strong associated Western boundary currents (WBC) ocean. and the dependence on local responsible for significant poleward heat propagate along these temperature conditions for ocean surface currents. They play a crucial role in tropical satellite remote sensing is an ideal tool (the WBC along the eastern coast of dynamics.

various ocean satellite systems as the spatial scales an area and the distance between its observations and techniques are used to become smaller or the processes take track lines. driving surface sure is determined by the height and because satellite altimeters measure SSH currents. More a complex structure of main oceanic of methods. but On scales of tens of kilometers and ments and calculations are required not all motions are geostrophic. In the classical Ekman balance density of the water column). Validation and SSH calculations. The most direct method details on the satellite missions and frontal systems. The eddy viscosity is the simplest 96 Oceanography | Vol.edu/grace) velocity in the Northern (Southern) force. known as accuracy of the gravity model. and the precise determination of the orbit and transferring momentum between the ocean is approximately hydrostatic (pres.4 . and the angle geostrophic currents.utexas. improving winds to estimate surface currents. is expected of the global surface current system and spatial resolution. the primary geoid is required.csr. Ekman using horizontal gradients in SSH. The Hernandez (2004) and Maximenko et al. due to redistribution of ocean mass. larger than vertical motions.com). such as the Gulf Stream uses satellite altimetry and ocean vector the SSH data produced can be found and the Kuroshio Extension. resting state). USA. for approximately steady motions.int/esaLP/LPgoce. accurate knowledge of the balanced by the vertical divergence and away from boundaries. between to finally improve resolution to 100 km. currents can then be derived from vector wind measurements (winds with both Kathleen Dohan (kdohan@esr.g. Honolulu. system of altimeters today captures the ocean’s mean level. which drives currents that follow flying since 2002 have greatly improved Hemisphere is 45° to the right (left) lines of constant pressure.oceanobs. No. and measured for Wind stress can be estimated from geostrophic currents can be calculated the first time long-term gravity changes winds using empirical relations. niques) surface drifter trajectories and Using Satellite Sensor s tion. WA. layer. Interpretation of Satellite Oceanographic Currents from Satellite data (AVISO) data distribution site Ekman Currents Altimetry and Vector Winds (http://www. mesoscale signal in many regions. In addition. atmosphere and ocean. launched in 2009 (http://www. Geostrophic motions dominate the Geostrophic Currents To calculate SSH. several measure. Having a constellation of characterize ocean dynamics. that is made during the design of a satellite. Earth and Space Research. remotely sensed data are used mesoscale. Because pressure spatial resolution of the geoid to some increases with depth. field of satellite altimetry thus benefits (2009) combine (in two different tech- Me asuring Oce an Currents from 18 years of international coopera.23. Winds larger. horizontal motions are much along with altimetry data. USA. The sate for the effect of eddies on the of measuring ocean currents directly. repeated coverage offered Satellite altimeters measure the height The Gravity field and steady-state through satellite systems is unachievable of the sea surface. highly accurate tide models. is related to sea surface height (SSH). One compromise Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) through in situ measurements.org) is Research Scientist. that is. University of Hawaii. However. HI.. School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.The regular. Gravity Recovery and of wind stress and has the shape of a balance of forces is between horizontal Climate Experiment (GRACE) satel. the ability to capture the desired features satellite orbit is between the temporal esa. At these relative to the geoid (the sea surface at (Ekman. Nikolai Maximenko is Senior Researcher. including exert a stress on the ocean’s surface. and a constant eddy viscosity. becomes increasingly challenging for the frequency the satellite passes over Until that happens. International Pacific are steady winds. The Ekman pressure differences and the Coriolis lites (http://www. in Figure 2a) reveal to assess current velocity with a variety (less than a day) of global SSH. enhanced from the wind direction. hundred kilometers. Rio and place on faster time scales. The assumptions Seattle. spiral decaying with depth. satellites solves this compromise. a well-mixed surface Research Center. the Coriolis force is scales.aviso. with real-time estimation topographies (e. through the Archiving. direction and speed). when there have been at least two satellite sea level anomalies to compen- Today’s satellite sensors are not capable altimeters in orbit at any given time. Their mean dynamic However. 1905).html).

From Maximenko strongly influenced by geostrophy. and at regular intervals as possible. These buoys measure surface The underestimation of amplitude is properties (e.noaa. terometers. local winds. success in capturing currents in areas smoothed to 1°. Sudre and Morrow. The variations between the methods are most notably in the b) treatment of geostrophic currents at the equator (where geostrophy becomes invalid). (b) Velocities are calculated during the computation of (a) from simple rela- These models have shown great tions among drifter velocities. temperature). Satellite technology has also revolu- and disadvantages. the Kuroshio (140°E.legos. in the Agulhas region (the WBC along by the satellites. Mercator/ SURCOUF (Larnicol et al.fr). section) for two monthsfor two months and fast motions that are not captured ments that measure vector winds: scat. such as nonlin- earities.parameterization of turbulent processes.gov. The correlation is lent eddies act on the large-scale flow and those measured from the trajectories particularly high when considering that like a viscosity. time/space point.gov). 30°N).. et al. Figure 3 shows a partly due to the ability to resolve sharp It is based on the concept that turbu. or close to land. Colors are magnitudes of mean drifter velocity and units are cm/s. The figure shows and synthetic aperture radar (SAR). 40°S). surface.. the advantage of these methods is in their lack of assumptions. Bonjean and Lagerloef. http://www. (2009). Mean streamlines shown here are calculated from 0. and sea level anomaly gradients.jpl. OSCAR velocities are within the ocean. but they Surface Current Products Ocean Surface Current Analyses Real- time (OSCAR. and inclusion of an adjustment to the currents due to gradients in sea surface temperature.nasa. (2010) provide an over. and May 1. Although missing more complex physics. although with high correlation. obs-mip. a) 2002. the Agulhas (30°E. systematically lower than those of the are buoys that drift on the ocean’s view of ocean vector wind sensors. of “drifters” (drifting buoys.25° ensemble-mean velocities between February. passive polarimetric sensors.oscar.edu/projects/DOT Oceanography | December 2010 97 . 2008. see next the drifters will follow the small features There are several classes of instru. comparison between OSCAR’s currents gradients in SSH. Note the strong of surface currents on a fixed global grid signal from high-eddy WBCs such as the Gulf Stream (60°W. http://ctoh. drifters.g. producing as close to a direct satellite measurement Figure 2. and the Centre de Topographie des Océans et de l’Hydrosphère (CTOH. Data are available at http://apdrc.hawaii. such as performance ties linearly interpolated to each drifter tionized measurements taken directly in high winds. For example. treatment of wind-driven turbu- lence. http://www. in rain.15. (a) 1993–2002 mean dynamic topography consisting of fronts and eddies.mercator-ocean. drifters Bourassa et al.fr) all provide global surface current products directly calculated from satellite altimetry and ocean vector winds. 2006. 1979. 2007. comparisons between one-day binned Global Drifting Buoy Array Each instrument has its own advantages drifter velocities and OSCAR veloci. 30°N). such as in the WBCs. the south tip of Africa).soest. http://podaac.

and drifters suffer from some slip in high winds. on the ocean surface. The advantage of drifters is their high frequency of information transmitted (six hourly or better velocities) and their direct measurement of water properties. Analyses Real-time (OSCAR) surface currents.g.soest. resulting in irregular sampling of the ocean’s surface. Maximenko et al. RDS = (std(D)-std(O))/std(D). 1/4-degree. to expand the latter onto a global.gov/ although the currents may vary with depth. and where D = drifter and O = OSCAR signal. 2010) at the International Pacific Research Center (http://apdrc. The data set uses satellite wind and altimetry. The depth.are attached to subsurface anchors sensors detect instantaneous positions phod/dac/gdp_drifter. the data follow an irregular trajectory.4 . No. While overall the comparison is high between the two surface currents is to track features fields. and changes in the coor. The Surface Currents from Diagnostic model (SCUD) data set is produced (Maximenko and Hafner. The Maximum 98 Oceanography | Vol. However. (c) OSCAR currents interpolated onto the drifter time and space posi- Velocities Through tion.. which may affect actual drifter trajectories. Combining Drifters with Satellite Derived Currents Simple relations among drifter veloci- ties.php) have global (drogues) designed so that buoy motion of the drifters. local winds. Comparison of velocity fields between drifting buoys and Ocean Surface Current Lagrangian surface drifters. (a) Snapshot of OSCAR currents in the Agulhas Current region. Red and blue vectors denote zonal direction. (b) One-day binned drifter velocities over two months.23. hawaii. Scales of vectors are set to be the same as in (b). regressed locally to scarce drifter data. Slope = slope of the best-fit line. The data collected by the buoy are ties. An alternative method for measuring Sk = 1-std(D-O)/std(D). with N = number of points. Comparison statistics between the two are Feature Tracking given in the scatter plots of (d) and (e). and sea level anomaly gradients recognized during computa- tions of the mean dynamic topography (e.aoml.edu/projects/SCUD). The buoys of the Global Drifter drifters are drogued at 15-m depth.noaa. launched as of the fall of 2010. Figure 2b. Satellite Program (http://www. daily grid. This product is particularly useful for studies of marine debris and other tracers with properties close to the ones of Figure 3. the smoothed nature of OSCAR compared to drifters is apparent in the vector fields.. 2009) can be used to assess time-varying velocities. Cor = correlation coefficient. coverage with more than 1350 drifters is dominated by water motion at drogue dinates can be converted into veloci. transmitted to passing satellites.

regions. Ocean general circulation models large-scale phenomena as the El Niño http://oceanmotion. (2010). force). 2006). mesoscale global eddy field and western models. synthetic aperture radar data (Chapron. middle of the subtropical North Pacific surface height field measured with radar Ocean by converging Ekman currents. Frequent global satel- interacting with the bottom.org for a compre- (GCMs) and coupled atmosphere-ocean Southern Oscillation and the Pacific hensive overview of the surface system).g. thus aiding the bottom waters to the surface. Surface current the accuracy of the velocity estimate is Velocities from SAR patterns define marine migration impacted by the ability to distinguish An alternative method for calcu. and between the surface and sary to measure the complete system larly flowing sea of eddies. particular for coastal zones. global satellite measurements through Wind variations create convergences Key Challenge s and assimilation of the satellite data to and divergences of surface currents. 2010).. from deep layers (Yoder et al. The on a variety of surface imaged fields. all of heat transport (Boccaletti et al. although pollutant dispersal (e. 2005). and feature. push tracks the displacements of small-scale model the scales that remote sensing waters off the coast (due to the Coriolis features on high-resolution satellite cannot capture. Williams et al. momentum. recre- which change the shape of the tracked 2005). heterogeneous mixing and local forcing. see Lee et al. the range of scales neces- Circumpolar Current is a circumpo. 2002. continually the deep ocean. This method has promise in ational boating. Although it is a surface observations. a similar technique has been from signals such as wave orbital of floating plastic debris formed in the used to track mesoscale features in the motion or tides. 2003). respec. For an which in turn force vertical motion Satellite systems can now capture the overview of ocean state estimation from (downwelling and upwelling. With great possible poten. Similarly. For including isolating the surface currents “Great Garbage Patch. commercial fishing. important role in the dynamics of such understanding of surface circulation (see 2007). SAR Importance of has the potential to damage marine life images (Liu. Future Developments improve model performance.g. The overall ocean circula. currents are responsible for Figure 4 shows these convergent zones water exchange between different parts for surface tracers. map the surface drift. oil spills) all tracking technique is that it can be used there are many technical challenges. rely on surface current patterns. if boundary currents. MCC today is limited to areas free satellite missions. In return.. forcing colder. For example. A strong advantage of a feature. and crucial component of the atmosphere/ rather than being constant. Strong winds along coasts. and with more Oceanography | December 2010 99 . The surface branch of the ocean Some features of the mean circulation tion compensates for the effect of differ.. 2010). 2009) have been used to Surface Currents and alter the biological environment. the Antarctic salt between the equator and the polar ocean system. (e. tively). lite measurements provide invaluable which modify the mean circulation Surface currents play a particularly information that greatly increases our (e. lating surface currents is through the knowledge of these paths is important ated with waves or processes such as exploitation of the Doppler shift in for efficient management of resources. and “material” features from those associ.. search and rescue.g. guiding scientific requirements for future ocean depends on the supply of nutrients tial.. altimetry (Fu. of clouds for periods long enough to Surface current trajectories also identify the displacements. Much of advection by ocean currents (Emery understanding of physical processes and the biological production in the upper et al. At all scales. and the circulation is a dominant term in situ sampling. the migration of larvae). Karsten et al. Doppler-Based Surface impact marine life. with insights into three.. GCMs have greatly benefitted from Decadal Oscillation (Lee et al. The surface branch of is an insurmountable challenge for in focused and defocused into jets. In addition. Shipping. by redistributing heat.. General Circulation Models of the ocean. nutrient-rich SST images and attributes them to dimensional dynamics. general circulation is the location of are harder to diagnose exclusively from ential solar heating and air-sea fluxes all air-sea exchange.” a huge cluster example.Cross-Correlation (MCC) technique data assimilation models are able to oriented in the right direction...

satellite altimetry to coastal regions) is Featherstone. however. making them effects (wet tropospheric correction). the ocean looks more like a sea of inter- Figure 4. Fu et al. 2008).. 2007). starting from a uniform initial condition of unity. Filament scales distances of 25–100 km offshore. it is of interest to understand current calculations have occurred fronts. In great success at capturing mesoscale now begin to observe changes at time addition. such as customized atmo. so that developing any complete global system of coastal currents will involve combining the results of all regional studies. All involve regional treatment of the problem. These types of methods have been shown to accurately calculate circulation up to 5 km from land. No. and to use difficult to observe by satellite. Tracer density distribution after 10 years of advection by surface currents. with rapid changes of the altimeter footprint.. scales relevant to climate. such as those produced by AVISO. These surges occur too 2003). frequency. in this issue) include a detailed tracking land pollutants. tracks. 2006). small scale. These et al. with potential increases in severity with within these eddies (McGillicuddy et al. currents. (Madsen et al. climate change. existing success at capturing near-real- migration. and vertical varia. and controlled by These mesoscale eddies are an important many important physical processes the shape of the seafloor. of these patterns is also important for of research is in waveform retracking— (2010. Knowledge through several approaches. we can near land. such as tide gauges on the order of a day. (Saraceno et al. which are only reliable at spheric physics or local tides (Volkov in ocean turbulence. with coastal circulation patterns.. At wave- modulation of the altimeter waveform statistics to predict storm surges lengths shorter than 100 km. The planned Surface Water and Coastal Regions quickly to be consistently captured by Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission Because the majority of recreational conventional altimetry. reprocessing individual satellite track description of the SWOT mission and and ecological components such as larval signals to recover the distorted wave. river exchange.. storm surges can 20–30% of vertical nutrient transport in smaller spatial scales. 2007). are stretched and pulled by the eddies near land. as in the rings of Figures 3 and 5a.4 . both in numer- ical models and in satellite observations. consistent with acting eddies than a system of gyres and statistics from drifters. Another area of Between these eddies are submeso- an emerging field with a relatively recent development is application of regional scale features. One area much closer coastal coverage. Capturing Small-Scale Features As resolution increases. will provide an unprecedented global and commercial ocean use is along the Recent advances in coastal surface characterization of fine-scale features and coasts. are showing than 18 years of altimetry data. For example. Coastal altimetry (applying form as it reaches land (Deng and time mesoscale eddies.23. Approximately because of their faster time scales. with O(10 km) resolution. drastically affect coastal communities. 100 Oceanography | Vol. which would mechanism for drawing nutrients up remain elusive to satellite remote sensing be missed by gaps between nadir satellite into the euphotic zone. Blended satellite products. the upper ocean is estimated to occur tion (see Figure 5). A different approach is are kilometers thick and hundreds of limitations are due to several factors: size to combine satellite data with in situ kilometers long. atmospheric measurements. such as small eddies and history because of limitations in the coastal physics to signal-processing high potential vorticity filaments that accuracy of the satellite system’s signals algorithms. coastal processes are often high eddies. and strong tidal signals. However.

but filament structure has yet methods such as SQG and Lyapunov Vertical shear modifies calculations of to be observed globally.jpl. if a species geophysical turbulence. (a) Time evolution of the breakdown of the Kuroshio tion than SSH fields.gov). which measures ocean during the course of the day according for filaments are beginning to show mass. Winds can also play a significant role in vertical transport.noaa.. for example) but Vertical Shear Garbage Patch) depend on vertical shear. and processes. ubiquitous features of the ocean that the physics of surface circulation. western boundary current into eddies. 2008). The trajectories are consistently seen in high-resolution of suspended pollutants (e. This method requires high-resolution fields. 1995) in extracting three- dimensional dynamics from surface fields (Isern-Fontanet. Satellite sensors measure surface proper. Filaments are exponents. The high-resolution SWOT mission (b) MODIS gridded SST at 4. the Great SST images (Figure 5b. SST (the only exception is the GRACE moves vertically in the water column Modeling studies that account satellite pair. are also responsible for much of the vertical transport in the upper ocean (Mahadevan and Tandon. providing drifter signal. and salt.g. as well as new insights into the transport of properties such as heat.nasa.measurement noise masks submeso. shear affects biological cally and theoretically in the context of ties: SSH. 2006). which have a much higher resolu- Figure 5. winds at the ocean surface.63-km spacing. and validation for analytical to define a vertically averaged current. satellites. or ocean bottom pressure). it will be that motions at these small scales are models that calculate surface currents carried on a path that will rely heavily responsible for as much vertical trans- port as the large eddies (Klein and Lapeyre. Along with small-scale motions. zoomed into the white box region in (a) (MODIS Terra Global will provide an unprecedented map of Level 3 Mapped Thermal IR SST from podaac. 2009). The to the percentage of sunlight. (c) Drifter track overlaid on an OSCAR snap- shot in the equatorial Pacific. Use of surface quasi-geostrophic theory (SQG) has also been successful (Held. (d) Vertical variation of currents seen in mooring data (courtesy of TAO Project Office of the information needed for estimates on NOAA/PMEL http://www. previously missed dynamics. adding to the challenge of capturing these scales by satellite. validation from these fields use assumptions about scales (Fu and Ferrari. Using the principles behind the creation of tracer filaments from the stirring caused by mesoscale eddies.pmel. Oceanography | December 2010 101 . the inter- face between water masses of different density. Additionally. momentum. Numerical studies suggest that fronts. 2009). For example. and thus has relied to date more on SST fields.gov/tao) on the same day as the OSCAR snapshot shown in (c).. advances are being made in diagnosing submeso- scale statistics from existing altimetry (d’Ovidio et al. This is of both regional and global numerical the vertical structure of currents in order somewhat improved with multiple models. near-inertial oscillations are prevalent in the the global submesoscale field. shown over 17 days on the OSCAR time spacing capability. 2008). Issues in surface current measurements. they have been studied mostly numeri.

Diurnal general.edu/projects/yomaha). The floats descend to depth jets. The ocean’s subsurface properties are of kilometers. comparable ment. Multiple satellite systems. Storm systems generally tion from long-term extensive in situ from breaking surface waves depends have scales of hundreds of kilometers. Subsurface current plots mooring current plotted in Figure 5d.ucsd. The notion of a surface measuring satellites. hawaii.edu) has fluctuations in temperature structure. from the mean wind have an additional been providing a continuous global which in turn cause daily fluctuations in wave response. ocean mixed layer measurements in a forcing and long-term climatic changes. along with to be modified as applications demand Data to the Deep the in situ global drifting buoy array. mixed layer with homogeneous turbu. The penetration depth of that capture both steady features and in thermohaline circulation. to the global surface arrays. measurements that include both speed ment has progressed far beyond the Surface current calculations. Variations floats (http://www. more accurate and complete physics. though. map of subsurface pressure. estimates of this YoMaHa project (http://apdrc. salinity. To capture these motions concept of its being simply the surface those from SSH and winds. funneling motions into a shallow jet waves are an energy source for motions The floats range in depth of measure- for a few hours over the day. known as inertial waves. SST. for a full understanding decay in depth on the order of tens accuracy of wind-field measurements of surface ocean circulation and its role of meters. the Argo array of profiling fluctuations in solar radiation cause daily steady in either time or space. transfer. Equatorial that mix the ocean interior. however. informa- turbulence and momentum transfer fast storms. which decays within Davis. torial regions. rior and hence the global overturning from Argo data are produced by the In addition. thereby requiring wind The view of the ocean’s surface move- the top few meters. An example of the vertical varia. large enough to be captured by satel. These at present. structure of the upper ocean. among other factors. ments and therefore several vector wind tion that redistributes heat and salinity ress to be made. Ekman currents have an exponential tion into the ocean interior. The behavior of surface currents is a have provided us with a comprehensive These enhanced models will need in situ combination of short-term surface view of open-ocean surface motion. and they consequently and then ascend to the surface. However. mixed-layer depth. Wind-driven Fast Time Scales As we advance our understanding of both in strength and direction. trapped within the surface ocean mixed temperature. Unprecedented understanding of upper 102 Oceanography | Vol. measurement campaigns in key locations on. No. Particularly in equa. 1989). wind intensity. typically down to either 2000 m regions also exhibit large subsurface to the energy from tides (Wunsch and or 1000 m. In connect the surface to the subsurface. the surface. Surface can make an order of magnitude differ- waves carry an associated “Stokes drift. it is necessary to Many processes affect the vertical the ocean surface to a steady wind. 2004). mild or stormy (Gargett. between the tropics and the poles. the temperature difference layer. Whether a storm turns deep waters will also need to be coupled depending on whether conditions are clockwise or counterclockwise. rely on Ultimately. winds. of strong exchange between surface and with a qualitatively different regime lite systems. measuring lence and constant density will need Connecting Global Satellite SSH. tion and development.soest. resolving scales on the order of hundreds variety of dynamical locations for valida. winds are far from To this end. The Ekman spiral is the response of ocean circulation. and over 3000 floats are operating motions to the shallowest surface layer. providing full global coverage. and in nearly real time. both affected by and affect the surface.4 .argo.” ence in wave amplitude (Dohan and Summary known to surfers. in press). Ferrari. and its subsequent propaga. collecting tions in upper ocean currents is given in play a significant role in establishing data that are transmitted to satellites at the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) the density structure of the ocean inte. currents are intensified at the surface. branch of the thermohaline circula- include a vertical component for prog. and velocity measurements.23. and gravity. wind-driven waves and circulation. such as and direction. will need to requires more than twice-daily measure. Inertial motions can be clearly seen Deployment of Argo floats began in can be large enough to limit wind-driven as the spiral modulation to the drifter 2000. trajectory plotted in Figure 5c.on the vertical structure of the currents.

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