Near-surface trajectories off central and southern California

Winant, CD, Alden DJ, Dever EP, Edwards KA, Hendershott MC.  1999.  Near-surface trajectories off central and southern California. Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans. 104:15713-15726.

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circulation, current system, drifter observations, patterns, point conception, santa-barbara channel, seasonal, shelf, spring 1983, variability, wind


The near-surface circulation in the Santa Barbara Channel and off the coast of central and southern California is described based on 20 releases of drifters drogued 1 m beneath the surface from 12 sites within the channel at bimonthly intervals. This description includes small-scale features of the circulation which are not part of descriptions based on moored observations or of the statistics of the drifter releases. The eventual fate of drifters at long time intervals compared to the residence time in the channel (about 7 days) is also included. In the channel the trajectories document a persistent cyclonic circulation with a typical recirculation period between 3 and 5 days. In the spring, currents near the mainland are weaker than near the Channel Islands, and the overall flow is toward the southeast. Trajectories document the possibility for water parcels to leave the channel through the interisland passes. In the late fall and winter a poleward flow with velocities often exceeding 0.5 m s(-1) is confined within 20 km of the mainland. Between these two seasons the cyclonic tendency is enhanced, although most of the drifters eventually migrate westward. The trajectories of drifters released at the same time from sites only 20 km apart can be remarkably different. Once the drifters migrate out of the channel, their trajectories can be grouped into a few patterns. In spring and summer, drifters tend to remain in the Southern California Eight. Their trajectories often remain close over extended periods, as if they were caught in convergence zones. In fall the drifters often are caught in a poleward current.