Lagrangian Coherent Structures in a coastal upwelling environment

Matt K. Gough, Ad Reniers, M. Josefina Olascoaga, Brian K. Haus, Jamie MacMahan, Jeff Paduan, Chris Halle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


A unique spatiotemporal perspective of evolving surface currents off the northern California coast is provided with Lagrangian Coherent Structures (LCSs) determined from attracting Finite-Time Lyapunov Exponents (FTLEs). The FTLEs are calculated from hourly 2-D surface current velocities obtained with HF radars. Attracting FTLE field maxima can identify confluence and shear in flows which can be useful in mapping dynamics associated with fronts. FTLE and SST fields are compared during three time periods in 2009: late March, early September, and late September. During strong upwelling-favorable winds in late March the FTLE and SST fields were not strongly related indicating that frontal dynamics were not strongly influencing surface circulation. Exceptions to this occurred when FTLE ridges calculated from a shorter integration period captured the evolution of a cold water filament and when a FTLE ridge migrated offshore along with an upwelling front. During the two September cases an improved relationship between the FTLE and SST fields was found although occasionally they became shifted. The shifts occurred when the FTLE integration period spanned backwards in time through periods of relaxed and upwelling-favorable winds. This suggests that frontal dynamics captured by LCSs during relaxed winds can subsequently become advected after the onset of wind-forcing by a surface mixed layer decoupled from stably stratified water below the surface mixed layer. Additionally, the LCSs were found to be useful in mapping the origin and destination of surface trajectories, the confluence associated with a persistent eddy-like feature, and retention zones off coastal promontories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)36-50
Number of pages15
JournalContinental Shelf Research
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • Filaments
  • Finite Time Lyapunov Exponents
  • High frequency radar
  • Lagrangian Coherent Structures
  • Surface mixed layer
  • Upwelling front

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Geology


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