Lagrangian data in a high-resolution numerical simulation of the North Atlantic I. Comparison with in situ drifter data

Zulema D. Garraffo, Arthur J. Mariano, Annalisa Griffa, Carmela Veneziani, Eric P. Chassignet

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93 Scopus citations


A model/data comparison was performed between simulated drifters from a high-resolution numerical simulation of the North Atlantic and a data set from in situ surface drifters. The comparison makes use of pseudo-Eulerian statistics such as mean velocity and eddy kinetic energy, and Lagrangian statistics such as integral time scales. The space and time distribution of the two data sets differ in the sense that the in situ drifters were released inhomogeneously in space and time while the simulated drifters were homogeneously seeded at the same time over a regular 1° grid. Despite this difference, the total data distributions computed over the complete data sets show some similarities that are mostly related to the large-scale pattern of Ekman divergence/convergence. Comparisons of eddy kinetic energy and root mean square velocity indicate that the numerical model underestimates the eddy kinetic energy in the Gulf Stream extension and in the ocean interior. In addition, the model Lagrangian time scales are longer in the interior than the in situ time scales by approximately a factor of 2. It is suggested that this is primarily due to the lack of high-frequency winds in the model forcing, which causes an underestimation of the directly forced eddy variability. Regarding the mean flow, the comparison has been performed both qualitatively and quantitatively using James' statistical test. The results indicate that over most of the domain, the differences between model and in situ estimates are not significant. However, some areas of significant differences exist, close to high-energy regions, notably around the Gulf Stream path, which in the model lies slightly north of the observed path, although its strength and structure are well represented overall. Mean currents close to the buffer zones, primarily the Azores Current, also exhibit significant differences between model results and in situ estimates. Possibilities for model improvement are discussed in terms of forcings, buffer zone implementations, turbulence and mixed layer parameterizations, in light of our model/data comparison.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)157-176
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Marine Systems
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - 2001


  • Eddy kinetic energy
  • Lagrangian data
  • Mean velocity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science


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