Surface circulation in Block Island Sound and adjacent coastal and shelf regions: A FVCOM-CODAR comparison Academic Article uri icon


  • CODAR-derived surface currents in Block Island Sound over the period of June 2000 through September 2008 were compared to currents computed using the Northeast Coastal Ocean Forecast System (NECOFS). The measurement uncertainty of CODAR-derived currents, estimated using statistics of a screened nine-year time series of hourly-averaged flow field, ranged from 3-7 cm/s in speed and 4°-14° in direction. The CODAR-derived and model-computed kinetic energy spectrum densities were in good agreement at subtidal frequencies, but the NECOFS-derived currents were larger by about 28% at semi-diurnal and diurnal tidal frequencies. The short-term (hourly to daily) current variability was dominated by the semidiurnal tides (predominantly the M2 tide), which on average accounted for ~87% of the total kinetic energy. The diurnal tidal and subtidal variability accounted for ~4% and ~9% of the total kinetic energy, respectively. The monthly-averaged difference between the CODAR-derived and model-computed velocities over the study area was 6 cm/s or less in speed and 28° or less in direction over the study period. An EOF analysis for the low-frequency vertically-averaged model current field showed that the water transport in the Block Island Sound region was dominated by modes 1 and 2, which accounted for 89% and 7% of the total variance, respectively. Mode 1 represented a relatively stationary spatial and temporal flow pattern with a magnitude that varied with season. Mode 2 was characterized mainly by a secondary cross-shelf flow and a relatively strong along-shelf flow. Process-oriented model experiments indicated that the relatively stationary flow pattern found in mode 1 was a result of tidal rectification and its magnitude changed with seasonal stratification. Correlation analysis between the flow and wind stress suggested that the cross-shelf water transport and its temporal variability in mode 2 were highly correlated to the surface wind forcing. The mode 2 derived onshore and offshore water transport, and was consistent with wind-driven Ekman theory. The along-shelf water transport over the outer shelf, where a large portion of the water flowed from upstream Nantucket Shoals, was not highly correlated to the surface wind stress.

publication date

  • April 2016