A comparison of hydrographically and optically derived mixed layer depths Academic Article uri icon


  • Efforts to understand and model the dynamics of the upper ocean would be significantly advanced given the ability to rapidly determine mixed layer depths (MLDs) over large regions. Remote sensing technologies are an ideal choice for achieving this goal. This study addresses the feasibility of estimating MLDs from optical properties. These properties are strongly influenced by suspended particle concentrations, which generally reach a maximum at pycnoclines. The premise therefore is to use a gradient in beam attenuation at 660 nm (c660) as a proxy for the depth of a particle-scattering layer. Using a global data set collected during World Ocean Circulation Experiment cruises from 1988-1997, six algorithms were employed to compute MLDs from either density or temperature profiles. Given the absence of published optically based MLD algorithms, two new methods were developed that use c660 profiles to estimate the MLD. Intercomparison of the six hydrographically based algorithms revealed some significant disparities among the resulting MLD values. Comparisons between the hydrographical and optical approaches indicated a first-order agreement between the MLDs based on the depths of gradient maxima for density and c660. When comparing various hydrographically based algorithms, other investigators reported that inherent fluctuations of the mixed layer depth limit the accuracy of its determination to 20 m. Using this benchmark, we found a 70% agreement between the best hydrographical-optical algorithm pairings. Copyright 2005 by the American Geophysical Union.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Zawada, D. G., Zaneveld, J., Boss, E., Gardner, W. D., Richardson, M. J., & Mishonov, A. V.

citation count

  • 17

complete list of authors

  • Zawada, DG||Zaneveld, JRV||Boss, E||Gardner, WD||Richardson, MJ||Mishonov, AV

publication date

  • November 2005