Novel methods for optically measuring whitecaps under natural wave-breaking conditions in the Southern Ocean

Randolph, Kaylan; Dierssen, Heidi M.; Cifuentes-Lorenzen, Alejandro; Balch, William M.; Monahan, Edward C.; Zappa, Christopher J.; Drapeau, Dave T.; Bowler, Bruce

Traditional methods for measuring whitecap coverage using digital video systems mounted to measure a large footprint can miss features that do not produce a high enough contrast to the background. Here, a method for accurately measuring the fractional coverage, intensity, and decay time of whitecaps using above-water radiometry is presented. The methodology was developed using data collected in the Southern Ocean under a wide range of wind and wave conditions. Whitecap quantities were obtained by employing a magnitude threshold based on the interquartile range of the radiance or reflectance signal from a single channel. Breaking intensity and decay time were produced from the integration of and the exponential fit to radiance or reflectance over the lifetime of the whitecap. When using the lowest magnitude threshold possible, radiometric fractional whitecap coverage retrievals were consistently higher than fractional coverage from high-resolution digital images, perhaps because the radiometer captures more of the decaying bubble plume area that is difficult to detect with photography. Radiometrically obtained whitecap measurements are presented in the context of concurrently measured meteorological (e.g., wind speed) and oceanographic (e.g., wave) data. The optimal fit of the radiometrically estimated whitecap coverage to the instantaneous wind speed, determined using robust linear least squares, showed a near-cubic dependence. Increasing the magnitude threshold for whitecap detection from 2 to 4 times the interquartile range produced a wind speed–whitecap relationship most comparable to the concurrently collected fractional coverage from digital imagery and previously published wind speed–whitecap parameterizations.

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Also Published In

Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Ocean and Climate Physics
Published Here
January 14, 2022