National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2013

Global ocean surface velocities from drifters: Mean, variance, El Niño–Southern Oscillation response, and seasonal cycle

Lumpkin, R., and G.C. Johnson

J. Geophys. Res., 118(6), 2992–3006, doi: 10.1002/jgrc.20210 (2013)

Global near-surface currents are calculated from satellite-tracked drogued drifter velocities on a 0.5° × 0.5° latitude-longitude grid using a new methodology. Data used at each grid point lie within a centered bin of set area with a shape defined by the variance ellipse of current fluctuations within that bin. The time-mean current, its annual harmonic, semiannual harmonic, correlation with the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), spatial gradients, and residuals are estimated along with formal error bars for each component. The time-mean field resolves the major surface current systems of the world. The magnitude of the variance reveals enhanced eddy kinetic energy in the western boundary current systems, in equatorial regions, and along the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, as well as three large “eddy deserts,” two in the Pacific and one in the Atlantic. The SOI component is largest in the western and central tropical Pacific, but can also be seen in the Indian Ocean. Seasonal variations reveal details such as the gyre-scale shifts in the convergence centers of the subtropical gyres, and the seasonal evolution of tropical currents and eddies in the western tropical Pacific Ocean. The results of this study are available as a monthly climatology.

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