Reconstruction of submesoscale velocity field from surface drifters

Rafael C. Gonçalves, Mohamed Iskandarani, Tamay Özgökmen, W. Carlisle Thacker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The extensive drifter deployment during the Lagrangian Submesoscale Experiment (LASER) provided observations of the surface velocity field in the northern Gulf of Mexico with high resolution in space and time. Here, we estimate the submesoscale velocity field sampled by those drifters using a procedure that statistically interpolates these data both spatially and temporally. Because the spacing of the drifters evolves with the flow, causing the resolution that they provide to vary in space and time, it is important to be able to characterize where and when the estimated velocity field is more or less accurate, which we do by providing fields of interpolation errors. Our interpolation uses a squared-exponential covariance function characterizing correlations in latitude, longitude, and time. Two novelties in our approach are 1) the use of two scales of variation per dimension in the covariance function and 2) allowing the data to determine these scales along with the appropriate amplitude of observational noise at these scales. We present the evolution of the reconstructed velocity field along with maps of relative vorticity, horizontal divergence, and lateral strain rate. The reconstructed velocity field exhibits horizontal length scales of 0.4-3.5 km and time scales of 0.6-3 h, and features with convergence up to 8 times the planetary vorticity f, lateral strain rate up to 10f, and relative vorticity up to 13f. Our results point to the existence of a vigorous and substantial ageostrophic circulation in the submesoscale range.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)941-958
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019


  • Ageostrophic circulations
  • Bayesian methods
  • Fronts
  • Optimization
  • Regression analysis
  • Surface observations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography


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