General characteristics of relative dispersion in the ocean

Scientific Reports

Raffaele Corrado, Guglielmo Lacorata, Luigi Palatella, Rosalia Santoleri & Enrico Zambianchi; "General characteristics of relative dispersion in the ocean". Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 46291 (2017) doi:10.1038/srep46291

The multi-scale and nonlinear nature of the ocean dynamics dramatically affects the spreading of matter, like pollutants, marine litter, etc., of physical and chemical seawater properties, and the biological connectivity inside and among different basins. Based on the Finite-Scale Lyapunov Exponent analysis of the largest available near-surface Lagrangian data set from the Global Drifter Program, our results show that, despite the large variety of flow features, relative dispersion can ultimately be described by a few parameters common to all ocean sub-basins, at least in terms of order of magnitude. This provides valuable information to undertake Lagrangian dispersion studies by means of models and/or of observational data. Moreover, our results show that the relative dispersion rates measured at submesoscale are significantly higher than for large-scale dynamics. Auxiliary analysis of high resolution GPS-tracked drifter hourly data as well as of the drogued/undrogued status of the buoys is provided in support of our conclusions. A possible application of our study, concerning reverse drifter motion and error growth analysis, is proposed relatively to the case of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 aircraft.