Drogue-loss detection for surface drifters during the Lagrangian Submesoscale Experiment (LASER)

Angelique C. Haza, E. D'Asaro, H. Chang, S. Chen, M. Curcic, C. Guigand, H. S. Huntley, G. Jacobs, G. Novelli, T. M. Özgökmen, A. C. Poje, E. Ryan, A. Shcherbina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


The Lagrangian Submesoscale Experiment (LASER) was designed to study surface flows during winter conditions in the northern Gulf of Mexico. More than 1000 mostly biodegradable drifters were launched. The drifters consisted of a surface floater extending 5 cm below the surface, containing the satellite tracking system, and a drogue extending 60 cm below the surface, hanging beneath the floater on a flexible tether. On some floats, the drogue separated from the floater during storms. This paper describes methods to detect drogue loss based on two properties that distinguish drogued from undrogued drifters. First, undrogued drifters often flip over, pointing their satellite antenna downward and thus intermittently reducing the frequency of GPS fixes. Second, undrogued drifters respond to wind forcing more than drogued drifters. A multistage analysis is used: first, two properties are used to create a preliminary drifter classification; then, the motion of each unclassified drifter is compared to that of its classified neighbors in an iterative process for nearly all of the drifters. The algorithm classified drifters with a known drogue status with an accuracy of virtually 100%. Drogue loss times were estimated with a precision of less than 0.5 and 3 h for 60% and 85% of the drifters, respectively. An estimated 40% of the drifters lost their drogues in the first 7 weeks, with drogue loss coinciding with storm events, particularly those with steep waves. Once the drogued and undrogued drifters are classified, they can be used to quantify the differences in material dispersion at different depths.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)705-725
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ocean Engineering
  • Atmospheric Science


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