A probabilistic method for the estimation of ocean surface currents from short time series of HF radar data

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We present a new method for inverting ocean surface currents from beam-forming HF radar data. In contrast with the classical method, which inverts radial currents based on shifts of the main Bragg line in the radar Doppler spectrum, the method works in the temporal domain and inverts currents from the amplitude modulation of the I and Q radar time series. Based on this principle, we propose a Maximum Likelihood approach, which can be combined with a Bayesian inference method assuming a prior current distribution, to infer values of the radial surface currents. We assess the method performance by using synthetic radar signal as well as field data, and systematically comparing results with those of the Doppler method. The new method is found advantageous for its robustness to noise at long range, its ability to accommodate shorter time series, and the possibility to use a priori information to improve the estimates. Limitations are related to current sign errors at far-ranges and biased estimates for small current values and very short samples. We apply the new technique to a data set from a typical 13.5 MHz WERA radar, acquired off of Vancouver Island, BC, and show that it can potentially improve standard synoptic current mapping.

Publication Title

Ocean Modelling