Ocean Dynamics

, Volume 61, Issue 12, pp 2121–2139 | Cite as

Particle tracking in the vicinity of Helgoland, North Sea: a model comparison

  • Ulrich Callies
  • Andreas Plüß
  • Jens Kappenberg
  • Hartmut Kapitza
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Maritime Rapid Environmental Assessment


Station Helgoland Roads in the south-eastern North Sea (German Bight) hosts one of the richest long-term time series of marine observations. Hydrodynamic transport simulations can help understand variability in the local data brought about by intermittent changes of water masses. The objective of our study is to estimate to which extent the outcome of such transport simulations depends on the choice of a specific hydrodynamic model. Our basic experiment consists of 3,377 Lagrangian simulations in time-reversed mode initialized every 7 h within the period Feb 2002–Oct 2004. Fifty-day backward simulations were performed based on hourly current fields from four different hydrodynamic models that are all well established but differ with regard to spatial resolution, dimensionality (2D or 3D), the origin of atmospheric forcing data, treatment of boundary conditions, presence or absence of baroclinic terms, and the numerical scheme. The particle-tracking algorithm is 2D; fields from 3D models were averaged vertically. Drift simulations were evaluated quantitatively in terms of the fraction of released particles that crossed each cell of a network of receptor regions centred at the island of Helgoland. We found substantial systematic differences between drift simulations based on each of the four hydrodynamic models. Sensitivity studies with regard to spatial resolution and the effects of baroclinic processes suggest that differences in model output cannot unambiguously be assigned to certain model properties or restrictions. Therefore, multi-model simulations are needed for a proper identification of uncertainties in long-term Lagrangian drift simulations.


Lagrangian particle tracking Backward trajectories Model comparison North Sea Helgoland Roads 



We gratefully acknowledge the provision of output from the model BSHcmod by our colleagues from the Bundesamt für Seeschifffahrt und Hydrographie (BSH) in Hamburg. Levitus (NODC_WOA98) salinity data were provided by the NOAA/OAR/ESRL PSD, Boulder, Colorado, USA, from their web site at For graphical display, we used the Generic Mapping Tools software (GMT) available from The study was conducted within the framework of the WIMO project (Scientific monitoring concepts for the German Bight), jointly funded by Niedersächsisches Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kultur (MWK) and Niedersächsisches Ministerium für Umwelt und Klimaschutz (MUK).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ulrich Callies
    • 1
    • 3
  • Andreas Plüß
    • 2
  • Jens Kappenberg
    • 1
  • Hartmut Kapitza
    • 1
  1. 1.Helmholtz-Zentrum GeesthachtGeesthachtGermany
  2. 2.Federal Waterways Engineering and Research Institute (BAW)HamburgGermany
  3. 3.Helmholtz-Zentrum GeesthachtInstitute of Coastal ResearchGeesthachtGermany

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