Mapping the U.S. West Coast surface circulation: A multiyear analysis of high-frequency radar observations

Sung Yong Kim, Eric J. Terrill, Bruce D. Cornuelle, Burton Jones, Libe Washburn, Mark A. Moline, Jeffrey D. Paduan, Newell Garfield, John L. Largier, Greg Crawford, P. Michael Kosro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations

Abstract

The nearly completed U.S. West Coast (USWC) high-frequency radar (HFR) network provides an unprecedented capability to monitor and understand coastal ocean dynamics and phenomenology through hourly surface current measurements at up to 1 km resolution. The dynamics of the surface currents off the USWC are governed by tides, winds, Coriolis force, low-frequency pressure gradients (less than 0.4 cycles per day (cpd)), and nonlinear interactions of those forces. Alongshore surface currents show poleward propagating signals with phase speeds of O(10) and O(100 to 300) km day-1 and time scales of 2 to 3 weeks. The signals with slow phase speed are only observed in southern California. It is hypothesized that they are scattered and reflected by shoreline curvature and bathymetry change and do not penetrate north of Point Conception. The seasonal transition of alongshore surface circulation forced by upwelling-favorable winds and their relaxation is captured in fine detail. Submesoscale eddies, identified using flow geometry, have Rossby numbers of 0.1 to 3, diameters in the range of 10 to 60 km, and persistence for 2 to 12 days. The HFR surface currents resolve coastal surface ocean variability continuously across scales from submesoscale to mesoscale (O(1) km to O(1000) km). Their spectra decay with k-2 at high wave number (less than 100 km) in agreement with theoretical submesoscale spectra below the observational limits of present-day satellite altimeters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberC03011
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Volume116
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Forestry
  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Palaeontology

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