Passive optical sensing of the near-surface wind-driven current profile

Nathan J.M. Laxague, Brian K. Haus, David G. Ortiz-Suslow, Conor J. Smith, Guillaume Novelli, Hanjing Dai, Tamay Özgökmen, Hans C. Graber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Estimation of near-surface current is essential to the estimation of upper-ocean material transport. Wind forcing and wave motions are dominant in the near-surface layer [within O(0.01) m of the surface], where the highly sheared flows can differ greatly from those at depth. This study presents a new method for remotely measuring the directional wind and wave drift current profile near to the surface (between 0.01 and 0.001 m for the laboratory and between 0.1 and 0.001 m for the field). This work follows the spectral analysis of high spatial (0.002 m) and temporal resolution (60 Hz) wave slope images, allowing for the evaluation of near-surface current characteristics without having to rely on instruments that may disturb the flow. Observations gathered in the 15 m × 1 m × 1 m wind-wave flume at the University of Miami's Surge-Structure-Atmosphere Interaction (SUSTAIN) facility show that currents retrieved via this method agree well with the drift velocity of camera-tracked dye. Application of this method to data collected in the mouth of the Columbia River (MCR) indicates the presence of a near-surface current component that departs considerably from the tidal flow and may be steered by the wind stress. These observations demonstrate that wind speed-based parameterizations alone may not be sufficient to estimate wind drift and to hold implications for the way in which surface material (e.g., debris or spilled oil) transport is estimated when atmospheric stress is of relatively high magnitude or is steered off the mean wind direction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1097-1111
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2017


  • Currents
  • Remote sensing
  • Wind waves

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ocean Engineering
  • Atmospheric Science


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