Near-surface salinity and temperature structure observed with dual-sensor drifters in the subtropical South Pacific

Shenfu Dong, Denis Volkov, Gustavo Goni, Rick Lumpkin, Gregory R. Foltz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Three surface drifters equipped with temperature and salinity sensors at 0.2 and 5 m depths were deployed in April/May 2015 in the subtropical South Pacific with the objective of measuring near-surface salinity differences seen by satellite and in situ sensors and examining the causes of these differences. Measurements from these drifters indicate that water at a depth of 0.2 m is about 0.013 psu fresher than at 5 m and about 0.024°C warmer. Events with large temperature and salinity differences between the two depths are caused by anomalies in surface freshwater and heat fluxes, modulated by wind. While surface freshening and cooling occurs during rainfall events, surface salinification is generally observed under weak wind conditions (≤4 m/s). Further examination of the drifter measurements demonstrates that (i) the amount of surface freshening and strength of the vertical salinity gradient heavily depend on wind speed during rain events, (ii) salinity differences between 0.2 and 5 m are positively correlated with the corresponding temperature differences for cases with surface salinification, and (iii) temperature exhibits a diurnal cycle at both depths, whereas the diurnal cycle of salinity is observed only at 0.2 m when the wind speed is less than 6 m/s. The amplitudes of the diurnal cycles of temperature at both depths decrease with increasing wind speed. The mean diurnal cycle of surface salinity is dominated by events with winds less than 2 m/s.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5952-5969
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2017


  • diurnal cycle
  • dual-sensor drifters
  • satellite SSS
  • South Pacific
  • SSS stratification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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