Recovering the Eulerian energy spectrum from noisy Lagrangian tracers

Mustafa A. Mohamad, Andrew J. Majda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We consider the time-sequential state estimation of a flow field given a stream of noisy measurements that are provided by instruments advected by the flow, known as Lagrangian tracers or drifters. Lagrangian drifters collect real-time data as they move through the velocity field and are an important data collection method for atmospheric and oceanic measurements. We quantify the recovery of the Eulerian energy spectra from observations of Lagrangian drifters. This is performed by utilizing special Lagrangian data assimilation algorithms, known as conditionally Gaussian nonlinear filters. We address the following questions: how much of the turbulent Eulerian energy spectra can be recovered from assimilation of Lagrangian trajectory data and how accurately are the various energetic scales recovered relative to the truth. These issues are primarily studied in the perfect model scenario, but we quantify recovery due to model error by reduced order models via spectral truncation of the forecast model. We demonstrate high recovery skill of the two-dimensional turbulent energy spectra for both an exact filter and an imperfect filter, based on extreme localization of the covariance matrix, which is vastly cheaper than the exact filter, for both an inverse cascade spectrum with slope k−5∕3 and a direct cascade spectrum with slope k−3. The dependence of the spectral energy recovery skill on the number of tracers and the spectral truncation grid size is also studied.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number132374
JournalPhysica D: Nonlinear Phenomena
StatePublished - Feb 2020


  • Bayesian methods
  • Data assimilation
  • Inverse methods
  • Lagrangian drifters
  • Nonlinear Kalman filtering
  • Tracer diffusion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Mathematical Physics
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Applied Mathematics


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