Can drake passage observations match ekman's classic theory

Jeff A. Polton, Yueng Djern Lenn, Shane Elipot, Teresa K. Chereskin, Janet Sprintall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Ekman's theory of the wind-driven ocean surface boundary layer assumes a constant eddy viscosity and predicts that the current rotates with depth at the same rate as it decays in amplitude. Despite its wide acceptance, Ekman current spirals are difficult to observe. This is primarily because the spirals are small signals that are easily masked by ocean variability and cannot readily be separated from the geostrophic component. This study presents a method for estimating ageostrophic currents from shipboard acoustic Doppler current profiler data in Drake Passage and finds that observations are consistent with Ekman's theory. By taking into account the sampling distributions of wind stress and ageostrophic velocity, the authors find eddy viscosity values in the range of 0.08-0.12m2 s-1 that reconcile observations with the classic theory in Drake Passage. The eddy viscosity value that most frequently reconciles observations with the classic theory is 0.094m2 s-1, corresponding to an Ekman depth scale of 39 m.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1733-1740
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography


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