How does drifter position uncertainty affect ocean dispersion estimates?

Angelique C. Haza, Tamay M. Özgökmen, Annalisa Griffa, Andrew C. Poje, M. Pascale Lelong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


To develop methodologies to maximize the information content of Lagrangian data subject to position errors, synthetic trajectories produced by both a large-eddy simulation (LES) of an idealized submesoscale flow field and a high-resolution Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Model simulation of the North Atlantic circulation are analyzed. Scale-dependent Lagrangian measures of two-particle dispersion, mainly the finitescale Lyapunov exponent [FSLE; λ(δ)], are used as metrics to determine the effects of position uncertainty on the observed dispersion regimes. It is found that the cumulative effect of position uncertainty on λ(δ) may extend to scales 20-60 times larger than the position uncertainty. The range of separation scales affected by a given level of position uncertainty depends upon the slope of the true FSLE distribution at the scale of the uncertainty. Low-pass filtering or temporal subsampling of the trajectories reduces the effective noise amplitudes at the smallest spatial scales at the expense of limiting the maximum computable value of λ. An adaptive time-filtering approach is proposed as a means of extracting the true FSLE signal from data with uncertain position measurements. Application of this filtering process to the drifters with the Argos positioning system released during the LatMix: Studies of Submesoscale Stirring and Mixing (2011) indicates that the measurement noise dominates the dispersion regime in λ for separation scales δ < 3 km. An expression is provided to estimate position errors that can be afforded depending on the expected maximum λ in the submesoscale regime.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2809-2828
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2014


  • Data processing
  • Global positioning systems (GPS)
  • Instrumentation/sensors
  • Sampling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ocean Engineering
  • Atmospheric Science


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