Near-Inertial Surface Currents and their influence on Surface Dispersion in the Northeastern Gulf of Mexico near the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Friday, 19 December 2014
Matt Gough, RSMAS, Miami, FL, United States, Ad Reniers, Delft University of Technology, Hydrolic Engineering, Delft, Netherlands, James H MacMahan, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA, United States and Stephan Dixon Howden, University of Southern Mississippi, Stennis Space Center, MS, United States
The continental shelf along the northeastern Gulf of Mexico is transected by the critical latitude (30°N) for inertial motions. At this latitude the inertial period is 24 hours and diurnal surface current oscillations can amplify due to resonance with diurnal wind and tidal forcing. Tidal amplitudes are relatively small in this region although K1 tidal currents can be strong over the shelf west of the DeSoto Canyon where the K1 tide propagates onshore as a Sverdrup wave. Other sources of diurnal motions include internal tidal currents, Poincaré waves, and basin resonance. It is therefore very difficult to separate inertial wind-driven motions from other diurnal motions.

Spatiotemporal surface currents were measured using hourly 6 km resolution HF radar data collected in June 2010 during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and July 2012 during the Grand Lagrangian Deployment (GLAD). Surface currents were also measured using GLAD GPS-tracked drifters. NDBC buoy wind data were used to determine wind-forcing, and OSU Tidal Inversion Software (OTIS) were used to predict tidal currents.

The relative spatiotemporal influence of diurnal wind and tidal forcing on diurnal surface current oscillations is determined through a series of comparative analyses: phase and amplitude of bandpassed timeseries, wavelet analyses, wind-driven inertial oscillation calculations, and tidal current predictions. The wind-driven inertial ocean response is calculated by applying a simple “slab” model where wind-forcing is allowed to excite a layer of low-density water riding over high density water. The spatial variance of diurnal motions are found to be correlated with satellite turbidity imagery indicating that stratification influences the sea surface inertial response to wind-forcing. Surface dispersion is found to be minimized in regions of high diurnal variance suggesting that mean surface transport is restricted in regions of inertial motions associated with stratification.