Parameterizing the sea surface roughness

William M. Drennan, Peter K. Taylor, Margaret J. Yelland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


The concept of an "equivalent surface roughness" over the ocean is useful in understanding the relation between wind speed (at some height) and the net momentum flux from air to sea. The relative performance of different physics-motivated scalings for this roughness can provide valuable guidance as to which mechanisms are important under various conditions. Recently, two quite different roughness length scalings have been proposed. Taylor and Yelland presented a simple formula based on wave steepness, defined as the ratio of significant wave height to peak wavelength, to predict the surface roughness. A consequence of this formula is that roughness changes due to fetch or duration limitations are small, an order of 10%. The wave steepness formula was proposed as an alternative to the classical wave-age scaling first suggested by Kitaigorodskii and Volkov. Wave-age scaling, in contrast to steepness scaling, predicts order-of-magnitude changes in roughness associated with fetch or duration. The existence of two scalings, with different roughness predictions in certain conditions, has led to considerable confusion among certain groups. At several recent meetings, including the 2001 World Climate Research Program/ Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (WCRP/SCOR) workshop on the intercomparison and validation of ocean-atmosphere flux fields, proponents of the two scalings met with the goal of understanding the merits and limitations of each scaling. Here the results of these efforts are presented. The two sea-state scalings are tested using a composite of eight datasets representing a wide range of conditions. In conditions with a dominant wind-sea component, both scalings were found to yield improved estimates when compared with a standard bulk formulation. In general mixed sea conditions, the steepness formulation was preferred over both bulk and wave-age scalings, while for underdeveloped "young" wind sea, the wave-age formulation yields the best results. Neither sea-state model was seen to perform well in swell-dominated conditions where the steepness was small, but the steepness model did better than the wave-age model for swell-dominated conditions where the steepness exceeded a certain threshold.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)835-848
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography


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