National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 1991

A comparison of ship drift, drifting buoy, and current meter mooring velocities in the Pacific South Equatorial Current

McPhaden, M.J., D.V. Hansen, and P.L. Richardson

J. Geophys. Res., 96(C1), 775–781, doi: 10.1029/90JC02136 (1991)

In this note we compare mean seasonal cycles of zonal and meridional velocity in the Pacific South Equatorial Current based on current meter mooring data, drifting buoy data, and ship drift data. Monthly averages of ship drift and drifting buoy data were computed over 2° latitude by 10° longitude rectangles centered at the positions of multiyear current meter moorings near 0°, 110°W, and 0°, 140°W. All three representations of the flow field show the basic character of the annual mean and its variations, provided that the sampling characteristics associated with each measurement technique are taken into account. In particular we find that more than 15 days of drifter data (regardless of year) are required on a 2° latitude by 10° longitude basis to produce monthly mean estimates that agree with moored estimates to within about 5–10 cm s-1rms. We also infer that windage affects climatological monthly mean ship drift velocities, although uncertainties in the data limit a precise determination of the windage magnitude. An upper bound appears to be about 3% of the surface wind speed, though the actual effect of windage may be considerably smaller.

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