Assimilation of drifter observations for the reconstruction of the Eulerian circulation field

Anne Molcard, Leonid I. Piterbarg, Annalisa Griffa, Tamay M. Özgökmen, Arthur J. Mariano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


In light of the increasing number of drifting buoys in the ocean and recent advances in the realism of ocean general circulation models toward oceanic forecasting, the problem of assimilation of Lagrangian observations data in Eulerian models is investigated. A new and general rigorous approach is developed based on optimal interpolation (OI) methods, which takes into account directly the Lagrangian nature of the observations. An idealized version of this general formulation is tested in the framework of identical twin experiments using a reduced gravity, quasi-geostrophic model. An extensive study is conducted to quantify the effectiveness of Lagrangian data assimilation as a function of the number of drifters, the frequency of assimilation, and the uncertainties associated with the forcing functions driving the ocean model. The performance of the Lagrangian assimilation technique is also compared to that of conventional methods of assimilating drifters as moving current meters, and assimilation of Eulerian data, such as fixed-point velocities. Overall, the results are very favorable for the assimilation of Lagrangian observations to improve the Eulerian velocity field in ocean models. The results of our assimilation twin experiments imply an optimal sampling frequency for oceanic Lagrangian instruments in the range of 20-50% of the Lagrangian integral timescale of the flow field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-1 - 1-21
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 15 2003


  • Drifters
  • Eulerian velocity
  • Lagrangian assimilation
  • Lagrangian velocity
  • Numerical model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Oceanography


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