Observing Ocean Surface Waves with GPS-Tracked Buoys
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Surface-following buoys are widely used to collect routine ocean wave measurements. While accelerometer and tilt sensors have been used for decades to measure the wave-induced buoy displacements, alternative global positioning system (GPS) sensor packages have been introduced recently that are generally smaller, less expensive, and do not require calibration. In this study, the capabilities of several GPS sensors are evaluated with field observations in wind-sea and swell conditions off the California coast. The GPS buoys used in this study include Datawell Directional Waverider and Mini Directional Waverider buoys equipped with a specialized GPS Doppler shift sensor, and a low-cost experimental drifter equipped with an ‘‘off the shelf’’ GPS receiver for absolute position tracking. Various GPS position receivers were attached to the Waverider buoys to evaluate their potential use in low-cost wave-resolving drifters. Intercomparisons between the Datawell GPS-based buoys, the experimental GPS drifter, and a conventional Datawell buoy with an accelerometer–tilt–compass sensor package, show good agreement in estimates of wave frequency and direction spectra. Despite the limited (several meters) absolute accuracy of the GPS position receivers, the horizontal wave orbital displacements are accurately resolved, even in benign (significant wave height less than 1 m) swell conditions. Vertical sea surface displacements were not well resolved by the GPS position receivers with built-in or small patch antennas, but accurately measured when an external precision antenna was attached to the drifter. Overall, the field tests show excellent agreement between Datawell buoys using GPS and motion-sensor packages, and demonstrate the feasibility of observing ocean surface waves with lowcost GPS-tracked drifters.
The article of record as published may be located at http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JTECH-D-11-00128.1
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