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OTC 23563

Examining Variations in West of Shetlands Current Profile Shapes in Light

of Regional Oceanography
Markku J. Santala, Chevron Energy Technology Company

Copyright 2012, Offshore Technology Conference

This paper was prepared for presentation at the Offshore Technology Conference held in Houston, Texas, USA, 30 April3 May 2012.
This paper was selected for presentation by an OTC program committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents of the paper have not been
reviewed by the Offshore Technology Conference and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material does not necessarily reflect any position of the Offshore Technology Conference, its
officers, or members. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper without the written consent of the Offshore Technology Conference is prohibited. Permission to
reproduce in print is restricted to an abstract of not more than 300 words; illustrations may not be copied. The abstract must contain conspicuous acknowledgment of OTC copyright.

The West of the Shetlands environment is an area where a significant amount of historical exploration and development
activity has taken place. It has been studied in fairly great detail from an oceanographic perspective due to the water mass
exchanges between the Atlantic and Nordic Seas which occur through the Faroe-Shetland Channel. The oceanographic
literature tends to treat water masses in different levels. Such treatment does not lead to much insight into the characteristics
of instantaneous profiles of interest for riser design. Also, while industry has significant experience and knowledge of the
high currents along the continental slope, the various deepwater measurements collected in the past have not been analyzed in
a systematic way to gain understanding as to how current profile shapes change when moving from the slope into deeper
waters. Recent oceanographic literature is reviewed with a view to summarizing how the knowledge of different water
masses can be used to anticipate the qualitative changes that should be expected in current profiles as one moves from the
slope into deeper waters. Data from three moorings in water depths varying from 500m to over 1000m are then quantitatively
analyzed with trends in profile shapes compared to the expectations one would develop from the oceanographic literature.
The main analysis tool used in doing this is an EOF analysis method based on one proposed in the late 90s as a technique to
help summarize data from current meter moorings as input to VIV analyses. The procedure used in this analysis is modified
slightly from what would be used directly as input for a VIV analysis so that the results can be more clearly used to interpret
the underlying oceanography and yet to retain a result which can directly demonstrate changes in profile characterization with
depth/location relevant to offshore engineering. Deepwater currents West of Shetlands are quite strong and vary in character
over a relatively short distance from the slope to deeper water. Understanding the extent of different current regimes and the
type of conditions to be expected in each regime is important to the engineering of safe and efficient development concepts.

The West of Shetlands environment is known to have among the most challenging wind, wave and current conditions in the
world from the standpoint of offshore development. A general summary of conditions along the slope, where there is a long
history of development activity, has been presented by Grant (1995). As sites deeper into the Faroe-Shetland Channel (FSC)
are considered the wind and wave conditions will be quite similar to those on the slope but current conditions will change as
different water masses and current regimes are encountered. Because current models have not been able to adequately
describe the dynamic currents in the West of Shetlands area it has been necessary to make use of measured data to develop
criteria for deepwater prospects. In developing measurement-based criteria one would like to make use of data from nearby
measurement sites to help improve the reliability of criteria values. But first, one must ensure that data used from nearby
sites are representative of the site of interest. Without an adequate knowledge of the oceanography of a region and the spatial
scales over which conditions vary, adopting data from nearby sites could actually introduce biases rather than improve
The oceanography of the Faroe-Shetland Channel has been extensively studied by oceanographers, who are interested in the
exchange of water masses and associated fluxes between the North Atlantic Ocean and Nordic seas. Classical oceanographic
studies tend to focus on pathways and fluxes associated with different water masses. Such studies give us some clues as to
current conditions which may be encountered at a site but analysis of water masses tends to lead to separate views of the
different stratified layers of the water column without insight into instantaneous current profiles which may be encountered.

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Also, the focus on water mass fluxes characteristic of oceanographic studies tends to obscure the distribution of current
speeds which may be encountered. Recent study by the Northwest Approaches Group joint industry project (NWAG JIP) has
examined regional flow characteristics using in situ deepwater mooring data collected throughout the region. Based on a
limited amount of data in a small geographic region Spring (1999) presented a qualitative description of deepwater current
profiles with some reference to the driving oceanography of the region. In this paper, current profiles at three sites in water
depths varying from 500m to 1120m are analyzed to examine how the characteristics of current profiles change as one moves
from sites on the slope into deeper waters. The general region of study and the location of the three datasets analyzed as part
of this study are shown in Fig 1 (with some gross particulars of the measurements listed in Table 1). For simplicity the three
sites studied in this paper will be referred to by names based on their nominal water depths; D500, D900 and D1120.

Overview of Oceanography Driving Regional Currents

The upper water column currents of the FSC are driven by water masses which have their origin in the extension of the Gulf
Stream known as the North Atlantic Current (NAC). North Atlantic waters sourced by the NAC reach the FSC by different
pathways. Water which arrives by a more-or-less direct route is known as North Atlantic Water (NAW) and results in strong
and persistent flow along the continental slope toward the northeast on the Shetland side of the FSC. North Atlantic waters
which first flow toward Iceland, mix with surrounding waters, and arrive into the FSC from the northwest are known as
Modified North Atlantic Water (MNAW). In the FSC, MNAW is significantly cooler than NAW and, more importantly
from an engineering standpoint; current speeds in the MNAW are much lower than in the along-slope NAW. In a plot of
mean surface current speed based on regional drifter data Sherwin (2006) gives some indication of the relative flow
intensities in these different current systems.
The pathways of the NAW and MNAW water systems have been variously described (Turrell, 1999; Hansen, 2000; Sherwin,
2006 and Hughes 2006). A summary representation of these current systems based on the aforementioned studies is provided
in Fig 2. Among the differing descriptions there are more differences in the pathways associated with the weaker MNAW
flows and the depiction in Fig 2 encompasses the range of these differing descriptions. Sherwin (1999) has noted that the
southernmost excursion of the MNAW is normally demarcated by a frontal region. The simplistic pathway description of
Fig 2 does not represent the fact that along the channel side of the slope current the system meanders and occasionally forms
small-scale (diameters on the order of 50km) but intense eddies. So, while sites in water depths greater than 1000m are not
normally in the NAW slope current, they are occasionally impacted by its meanders and associated eddies (Fig 4).
At the bottom of the FSC at depths greater than roughly 800m, currents normally flow toward the southwest. The source of
this southward flowing water is dense cold water formed in the Nordic Seas. This water mass is classified and labeled in
different ways but given our regional focus this current will be referred to here as the Faroe-Shetland Channel Bottom Water
(FSCBW) as in Fig 3. This label is consistent with the description by Turrell (1999).
Between the upper- and lower-water columns water masses from various sources flow into the region from the northwestern
part of the FSC. These waters flow towards the south along the western side of the FSC. Upon reaching the eastern side of
the FSC, intermediate depth waters diverge in direction (Fig 3). In this description all intermediate water masses have been
lumped into a single Intermediate Water (IW) classification without further distinction as the subsequent analyses will mostly
focus on analyzing conditions in terms of the simultaneous state of the upper- and lower-water column. Far more detail on
water masses in all parts of the water column may be found in the aforementioned references.
The NWAG JIP recently examined flow transport and eddy kinetic energy at twenty deepwater mooring sites throughout the
region (using both industry and publicly available data) and further confirmed these general flow patterns. In addition, the
mooring data confirm previous satellite and drifter-based conclusions that eddy kinetic energy in the surface-layer is higher
offshore the region of the highest along-slope transport. Hence, a picture emerges where flow along the slope in the NAW
slope current is persistently high and the adjacent deepwater region is a very dynamic zone where large fluctuations in
currents occur due to slope current meanders and associated eddies.
It is interesting to assemble these different layer descriptions into a notional cross-section of water masses across the FSC as
in Fig 5. In doing so, we can clearly envisage that sites on the eastern side of the FSC in roughly 500m water depth would
normally be impacted by the NAW slope current. Currents at such sites would normally be expected to flow toward the
northeast over the full extent of the water column. At deepwater mid-channel sites upper water column currents would
normally be driven by flows associated with MNAW. Upper water column currents at such sites would generally be more
moderate and could be more persistently northward or southward depending on their precise location. Of course, as noted
previously, meanders and eddies in the NAW slope current will occasionally bring high upper water column currents to even
mid-channel deepwater sites.

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In examining deepwater current data from the region Spring (1999) noted that the upper and lower water column seemed to
be to a large extent decoupled. Seasonal mean temperature profiles in our region of study show that overall the water column
consists of two relatively uniform layers separated by a strong permanent thermocline in the depth range of 400m to 600m
beneath the sea-surface (a secondary seasonal thermocline forms in the upper 100m of the water column, Fig 6). In this study
of current profiles it is found, not surprisingly that the density gradient (pycnocline) associated with the permanent
thermocline depth is major transition depth in current profile shapes. And, while it will not be examined further here, in this
discussion of the current processes and the pycnocline it should be mentioned that significant internal wave energy associated
with internal tides has been noted in the region. These internal waves are not likely to generate large currents in deepwater
but as they interact with the slope they have been noted to generate high near-sea bed currents where the pycnocline
intersects with the slope. These high near-seabed current events associated with internal waves have been found to be an
important process in sediment resuspension over this part of the continental slope (e.g., Hall, 2011 and Hosegood, 2004).
Such elevated near-bed currents would also likely be a concern for untrenched seafloor infrastructure along the continental

Mooring Data in Context of Regional Oceanography

Filtering the measurements at the three sites with a 32-hour low-pass filter to remove the effects of tides reveals the influence
of large scale flow patterns at the D500, D900 and D1120 measurement sites. The current roses in Fig 7 show the clear
influence of the NAW slope current at the surface and upper thermocline at the D500 site. At the D900 site the influence of
the NAW slope current is still evident in the near surface current rose but there is clearly more variation in speed and
directionality at this outer slope location. Based on the de-tided near-surface current rose the D1120 site seems to be
predominantly under the influence of southward flowing MNAW water. At the same time, the D1120 site occasionally
experienced near surface currents which approached those measured at the D500 and D900 sites and hence is also impacted
by the meanders and eddies from the NAW slope current. This is seen in the current meter records and historical sea surface
temperature images clearly show meanders may extend as far offshore as the D1120 site. The predominantly southwesterly
flow near the bottom at the D900 and D1120 sites is clear evidence of the FSCBW current impacting these sites. Since the
deep current rose at the D900 site is based on a depth 780m below the sea-surface it could be that the occasional
northeasterly flows are due to the influence of intermediate depth waters. So overall, the de-tided current roses presented in
Fig 7 are generally consistent with the large scale flow characteristics presented in Fig 2 to Fig 5.
Though revealing of mean flow patterns, de-tided current measurements are of only indirect interest for engineering
purposes. Hence, to keep analyses relevant to offshore engineering applications, all subsequent analyses and plots are based
on time series filtered with a much higher cut-off frequency to retain the combined influence of large scale flow phenomena
and tidal influences. Current roses at the same levels as those presented in Fig 7 but which include the influence of tidal
variations are presented in Fig 8. The effect of tides is generally to modulate the currents and make the background flow
characteristics less apparent. Of interest to engineering studies is the fact that tides also occasionally reinforce background
flows creating high speed currents.

Mooring Data Processing

In order to make site intercomparisons, data from all three sites were processed into a uniform format where all gaps in the
time series were filled to make the time series perfectly continuous. All data had been previously quality controlled (QC) but
as a result of the QC process rejecting some data, and due to mooring service intervals, there were minor gaps in each of the
datasets. Gap filling was accomplished in a multi-step process where the most minor gaps were filled in time, in profile and
then again in time. Following this minor patch work the few gaps with lengths exceeding 8 hours were interpolated at
each depth by optimally fitting a trend plus tidal variation component across the gap using the MATLAB fminsearch
Since profiles were to be grouped into a finite set of shapes, the data were filtered to remove high frequency variations which
are not coherent with depth at the deeper sites. A 5-hour low-pass filter was applied so that the resulting signals contain tidal
and lower frequency energy content (the data from the D900 site was first upsampled to a 10-minute interval so that exactly
the same filter could be used on all three datasets). With the data low-pass filtered, the 10-minute sample data is superfluous
(and a burden to the matrix computations required by the EOF analysis) so that post-filtering, data were decimated to a 1.5
hour interval. It should be highlighted that this low-pass filtering does reduce peak speeds in the datasets and hence the
profiles shown here do not reflect the maximum measured speeds. To ensure EOFs are equally weighted as a function of
depth, data were interpolated onto the uniform depth axes listed in Table 1. The intention was to have depths equally spaced
every 40m from 20m below the surface to a depth roughly within 20m of seabed but the depths at which measurements were
available precluded creating three datasets which precisely filled this goal. All data from the three moorings shown in this
paper are based on the gap-filled, 5-hour low-pass filtered, depth-interpolated time series decimated to the 1.5 hour time step.

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EOF Analysis Adopted for Present Analysis

Empirical orthogonal function (EOF) analysis has long been used by meteorologists and oceanographers to analyze complex
time series measurements. In the context of offshore engineering, Forristall (1997) described in detail how EOF analysis
could be coupled with other techniques to estimate extreme current profile shapes. They also outlined how the EOF
technique could be used to categorize profiles for fatigue analyses. The use of EOF analysis to characterize current profile
shapes as input to riser vortex-induced vibration (VIV) analysis was discussed in more detail in Meling (2002). In the
Meling paper the fatigue damage computed based on using all measured profiles was compared to damage computed based
on a reduced set of profiles based on EOF analysis.
The mathematics behind EOF analysis is clearly explained in both the Forristall and Meling papers and is not repeated here.
Essential aspects of EOF analysis as applied to current profiles are that: (a) the analysis decomposes each profile in the time
series into a set of N mode shapes where N is equal to the number of depths bins in the profiles, (b) for each time step a set of
N amplitude coefficients is produced which allows each profile to be precisely reproduced and (c) the EOF mode shapes are
determined such that the first mode represents the greatest possible amount of variance in the time series and each successive
mode represents the greatest amount of residual variance unfit by lower numbered modes. Point (c) is important because it
means, while point (b) is true, it is also true that in a typical case individual profiles can be described to a high degree
accuracy using just the first few mode shapes. This optimally efficient characterization of variance is the principal attraction
of using EOF analysis to characterize current profiles.
When considering deepwater current profiles in all their richness, one must contend with the fact the current profiles exhibit
significant variations in both speed and direction with depth. There are three basic choices: retain a somewhat complex
description of the situation and both preserve speed and directional information, examine flow in a given direction (approach
in Forristall) or discard directional information and only consider speed variations with depth (approach in Meling). Since
most present VIV analysis tools only consider flow in a plane, EOF profile analyses related to offshore engineering
applications typically focus either on flow in a plane or scalar speeds. The choice of which approach may depend on the
types of profiles encountered in an area (i.e., which form of simplification is truer to the physical situation) and/or on the
form of input needed for subsequent analysis steps.
The analyses presented here were based on a procedure used to develop simplified reduced sets of current profiles
appropriate for preliminary VIV analysis. To date, this procedure has produced profiles by examining the current speed inline with the peak speed of the profile at each time step irrespective of the depth at which the peak occurs. In doing this, a set
of current profiles are produced representative of flow in a plane and which may have flow reversals at various depths but
which do not have an associated directionality. In allowing the analysis direction to vary with time it has been found that the
amount of variance due to ignoring the cross-flow direction is fairly small. This could be compensated for by slightly scaling
up the analyzed speeds if it was desirable to maintain the full variance associated with the scalar speeds. Since the present
purpose is to both look at profiles which may be of significance for engineering applications and to illuminate the flow
characteristics of the different water masses in the region along the FSC this procedure has been modified to some extent.
The resulting hybrid approach may not be entirely pleasing to either an oceanographer or an engineer but will hopefully
provide some useful information to both. The procedure was developed after preliminary examination of the three measured
datasets and the following observations. First, flow is considered in a plane so that current reversals with depth may be
revealed. This is central to examining the directional influence of different water masses on the profile shapes. Second, the
degree to which flow is steered by bathymetry decreases with increasing water depth. If we chose to only analyze along a
single direction (even allowing that the chosen direction may vary by site) the amount of variance captured at each site would
vary considerably. So, a dominant along-slope direction was defined for each site. The dominant along-slope direction
was defined so that northeasterly flow would be positive and so that near-surface current speed variance would be maximized
along this axis. All the resulting angles are between 45o and 65o measured clockwise from north. From Fig 8, it is evident
that typical near-surface along-slope flows are negative at site D1120. To increase the amount of energy characterized by the
analysis, the along-slope direction was allowed to vary at each time step by 60o from the dominant along-slope direction.
The direction of along-slope projection at each time step was determined by finding the heading in the 120o sector which
maximized the depth-integrated along-slope current speed-squared. The result is that each profile is analyzed in the alongslope directional sector. Fig 9 shows histograms of the instantaneous along-slope direction relative to the dominant alongslope direction for each of the three sites. The directionality about the dominant along-slope direction becomes more
widely distributed at the deeper sites.
The first four modes of the along-slope sector currents are shown in Fig 10. There is a striking similarity in the modes of the
D900 and D1200 sites. At all sites the vast majority of variance in the total currents is captured by the first two along-slope
sector modes (Fig 11). The lower panel of Fig 11 also indicates the amount of energy lost by considering only flow in a
plane. Had the analysis focused on decomposing currents in a fixed along-slope direction, the modes shapes would look
quite similar (example for D1120 in Fig 12) but far more variance would be lost to the transverse component and this fraction
would vary with water depth (Fig 13).

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The leftmost and rightmost panels of Fig 12 shows along-slope directional sector modes computed in two ways. In the
leftmost panel, modes have been computed based on the equally spaced depths listed in Table 1. In the rightmost panel,
modes were simply computed based on the native measurement depths. Since the upward-looking ADCP measurements of
the D1120 mooring give a high spatial density of measurements in the upper water column, the variance minimization
scheme of the EOF procedure gives a much higher weighting to the upper water column in defining most shapes if one used
the analysis equations as defined in Forristall (1997) or Meling (2002). In this work it was desired to give a uniform
weighting to currents throughout the water column so, rather than developing a weighting scheme, the simple equations
presented in these previous works were used but the data were interpolated in depth to be (nearly) uniformly spaced in depth
at all sites.
Though most of the variance at all three sites is contained in the first two modes, this highly simplified description of currents
often means that individual profiles and perhaps even some classes of profiles may be poorly fit. Fig 14 shows four different
selected profiles from the D1120 site fit with a two-mode solution. Two of the profiles are fit quite nicely and the other two
profiles are fit rather poorly. When a four-mode solution is applied all of the same profiles are fit quite nicely (Fig 15).
When providing input to a VIV analysis it not entirely clear what level of abstraction in the profile shapes will still allow a
good fatigue life estimate. In their detailed study, Meling examined this issue for a particular dataset and hypothetical riser
by performing computations on solutions with different numbers of modes and comparing to computations based on the full
dataset. More typically, sets of profiles are provided without a priori knowledge of the riser configuration and, even if
known, for preliminary assessments such detailed pre-study would typically not be carried out. In assessing how many
modes are necessary, consideration could be given to the variance captured by modes, the qualitative degree to which profiles
are well fit (e.g. as in Fig 14 and Fig 15), the quantitative degree to which current speed exceedence is fit at all depths by the
simplified profiles and the descretization level of the modal amplitudes necessary to simplify the full set of profiles into a
reduced set of 100 to 200 profiles for analysis. For the analysis here, at the D1120 site if four modes are retained and if the
modal amplitudes for the first through fourth modes are discretized into 10, 7, 4 and 4 equally spaced bins respectively, the
full set of over 6000 profiles can be simplified to 204 profiles as shown in Fig 17. In developing the set of reduced profiles at
the D1120 (and other sites) two practical considerations were employed to help produce a reduced set of profiles which
matched the depth-varying exceedence of the input scalar speeds. First, to help reduce the number of profiles, an EOF profile
class which accounted for less than 0.05% of the overall occurrence of profiles and which did not exceed 30cm/s anywhere
over their depth range were dropped from the EOF generated profile set (this eliminated less than 0.1% of the total
occurrences). Second, to account for energy which is lost in using an in-plane characterization a statistical value somewhat
higher than the mean value was used in choosing the discrete mode amplitude coefficients for each profile shape. Using
precisely the same procedures at all three mooring yielded 50%, 10% and 1% speed exceedences based on the reduced set of
EOF profiles consistent with the input 5-hour low-passed scalar speeds at all three sites at all analysis depths consistent to
within 5cm/s. When providing criteria for VIV analyses it might be argued that it would be prudent to further slightly scale
up the EOF profiles so that the reduced set of profiles re-create the unfiltered speed exceedences. There are arguments for
and against doing so but, in this study focusing on the relative changes in profiles, no such scaling has been applied so that
the EOF profiles remain a summary representation of 5-hour low-passed currents.

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Observed Profiles in Light of Driving Oceanography

Based on the current roses in Fig 7 it might be anticipated that at the D1120 site the potential exists for highly uniform
profiles toward the southwest to occur when the southward flowing MNAW and FSCDW align. Because of the more
persistently northeasterly surface-layer flows at D900 site, it might be anticipated (though it is not the case) that such
occurrences are less frequent at the D900 site but that occurrences of profiles with flow reversals with depth are more
common. By stratifying the profiles in Fig 17 by whether flow in the along-slope sector is positive or negative at the surface
and bottom, we can gain some insight into how current profiles vary from the slope to the deeper sites.
To examine the varying nature of profiles at the D500, D900 and D1200 sites current speeds in the along-slope directional
sector at 60m below the surface and 100m (20m) from the bottom were classified in three speed categories; < -25cm/s,
>+25cm/s and low-speed occurrences with an absolute value 25cm/s. Profiles with a low-speed occurrence at either the
upper or lower evaluation depth were ignored and all possible combinations of simultaneous high speeds in at the upper and
lower evaluation depth were grouped together. Using a modest threshold of 25cm/s ensures that classified profiles are
significant occurrences of a class of profile shapes. The result is four categories of significant occurrences of different
profile shapes:
Speed at both the upper and lower evaluation depth > +25cm/s in the along-slope directional sector. Flow at both
the near-surface and near-bottom depths are towards northeasterly directions. For shorthand these profiles are
classified as NE-NE. These profiles are shown in Fig 18.
Speed at the upper evaluation depth > +25cm/s and speed at the lower evaluation depth < -25cm/s in the along-slope
directional sector. Here the near-surface current flows northeasterly and near-bottom current flows southwesterly.
For shorthand these profiles are classified as NE-SW. These profiles are shown in Fig 19.
Speed at the upper evaluation depth < -25cm/s and speed at the lower evaluation depth > +25cm/s in the along-slope
directional sector. Here the near-surface current flows southwesterly and near-bottom current flows northeasterly.
For shorthand these profiles are classified as SW-NE. There were no occurrences of such profiles at the D500 or
D900 sites and only one of the 204 D1120 site EOF profiles fell into this category (and accounted for less than 0.1%
occurrence). No plot.
Speed at both the upper and lower evaluation depth < -25cm/s in the along-slope directional sector. Flow at both the
near-surface and near-bottom depths are towards southwesterly directions. For shorthand these profiles are
classified as SW-SW. These profiles are shown in Fig 20.
Table 2 summarizes the percent occurrence of these different profile classifications and some clear trends can be noted. As
expected, current profiles with both the upper and lower water column towards northeasterly sectors are most common on the
slope at site D500 and become progressively less common from site D900 to D1200. Also consistent with our regional view
of the oceanography is the fact the profiles in the NE-SW category are most common at the D900 site. At D900 the upper
water column is frequently influenced by the NAW slope current and the lower water column reaches into the southwesterly
flowing FSCBW. It is not surprising that the SW-SW flow category is fairly rare at the D500 site. It is somewhat surprising
that SW-SW are slightly less common at the D1120 site than at the D900 site given the higher predominance of
southwesterly flowing currents in both the upper and lower water column in the current roses of Fig 6 and Fig 7 at D1120
relative to the D900 site. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that a fixed speed threshold of 25cm/s was used at all sites to
define significant occurrences and currents in both the surface and near bottom layers are typically much lower at the
D1120 site relative to the D900 site.
If we consider the permanent thermocline depth range to be 400m to 600m below the sea-surface then even the lower water
column evaluation depth at the D500 site is strongly influenced by the upper water column water mass and we should not
find a low occurrence of NE-SW or SW-NE flows surprising. In fact, the fairly high occurrence of 28.7% NE-NE flows at
D500 rivals the occurrence of cases where the absolute value of currents at only the upper or lower evaluation depth exceeds
25cm/s. Profiles independently peaking in the upper or lower water column occurred 35.8% of the time at D500. This
contrasts with the occurrence of such cases where the absolute value of currents only the upper or lower evaluation depth
exceeds 25cm/s at the D900 site (63.6%) or the D1200 site (52.5%). So, at deepwater sites currents are far more likely to
peak independently in the upper or lower water column than they are to fall into any of the simultaneous peaking categories.
Since the analysis here is purely observational, we cannot conclude if the less frequent occurrences of simultaneous upperand lower-water column peaking at the deep sites are in any way dynamically coupled or are simply the results of joint
occurrences of independent processes.

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Currents in the West of Shetlands region have been extensively studied in a classical oceanographic sense and have been the
subject of repeated industry measurements and investigations. Industry experience and knowledge of the current regime is
most extensive in the NAW slope current region. Though oceanographic studies provide some insight into how current
conditions vary as deeper water sites are considered, there has been little study of whether there are systematic variations in
current profiles that can be anticipated in a manner significant to offshore engineers. This study examines this question using
data from three sites and finds that:
Changes in profile shapes with depth can broadly be anticipated from water mass definitions defined in the
oceanographic literature.
Beyond the region where the slope current persistently flows peak currents will be similar to those on the slope due
to slope current meanders and associated eddies.
Predominant surface flow directions may vary significantly at different deepwater sites. Directionality will be
heavily influence by how frequently sites encounter MNAW versus NAW slope waters. Also, over the deepwater
region discussed here (red trapezoid in Fig 1) it is anticipate that predominant directionality within the MNAW will
vary from site-to-site (Fig 2). Site D1120 only provides a single sample of a site predominantly affected by
Deepwater current profiles in the region are often characterized by highly coherent structure above or below the
permanent thermocline.
Due to southwesterly flowing deep waters, profiles with flow reversals will be encountered more frequently at
deepwater sites than on the slope.
Occasionally, when upper and lower water column flows align, highly coherent flow may develop even at the
deepest sites.
In interpreting the above conclusions it is very important to keep in mind some of the significant limitations associated with
this study:
Data from only three sites were used. These sites vary not only in depth but also in their location along the slope.
The duration of the three datasets used in this study varied between 202 and 415 days. Therefore none of these
datasets reflects inter-annual variations. In fact, since none of the datasets were recorded simultaneously some of
the site-to-site variations noted could actually be due in part to inter-annual variations rather than site-specific
Also, all data presented in this paper were filtered using a 5-hour or lower cut-off low-pass filter. No effort was made to
represent the higher frequency energy in the measured data. For the purposes of the discussion in this paper this is no
limitation but it should be kept in mind that both the current roses and the current profiles presented do not represent the full
range of energy in the measured data.
Clearly, some of the aforementioned limitations can be addressed by expanding a study such as this to include more of the
historical measured data from the region. Such study could give further details into the challenging current conditions the
region poses for offshore engineering.

Data from the D500 site was kindly provided by BP from their long-term measurements at their Foinaven site. These data
proved to be quite valuable in serving as a reference point against which the deeper water measurements could be judged and
the author is grateful to BP for allowing analysis and presentation of this dataset. The NWAG JIP study of industry
measurements in the region was performed by T.J. Sherwin, P. Hosegood and E. Venables at the Scottish Association for
Marine Sciences. The reports generated as part of that study are not publicly available but the author would like to
acknowledge their value in developing his understanding of the region. NWAG JIP member companies consist of BP,
Chevron, Conoco, Shell, Statoil, Total and the UK HSE (the NWAG is now completed and closed). The author would like to
thank Colin Grant of BP for providing editorial review of this work and for helping to facilitate the NWAG JIP work in his
role as administrator of that JIP. Finally, the author would also like to acknowledge Duncan Millar and Iwan Arywan of
Chevron who have continued to provide encouragement in the further study of this area.

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1. Hansen, B. and S. sterhus (2000), North Atlantic-Nordic Seas exchanges, Progress in Oceanography 45 (2), 109-208.
2. Hughes, S.L., et. al. (2006), Fluxes of Atlantic Water (volume, heat and salt) in the Froe-Shetland Channel calculated
from a decade of Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler data (1994-2005), FRS Collaborative Report 01/06. Fisheries
Research Services, Aberdeen.
3. Sherwin, T.J., et. al. (2006), A description and analysis of mesoscale variability in the Faroe-Shetland Channel, JGROceans 111, ISI:000235995000002 (C3).
5. Turrell, W.R. et. al. (1999), Decadal variability in the composition of Faroe Shetland Channel bottom water, Deep-Sea
Research I 46 (1), 1-25. 1999.
6. Sherwin, . et. al. (1999), Eddies and a mesoscale deflection of the slope current in the Faroe-Shetland Channel. DeepSea Research I 46 (3), 415-438.
7. Boyer, T.P. et. al. (2006), World Ocean Database 2005. S. Levitus, Ed., NOAA Atlas NESDIS 60, U.S. Government
Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 190 pp.
8. Hall, R.A., J.M. Huthnance and R.G. Williams (2011), Internal Tides, nonlinear internal wave trains, and mixing in the
Faroe-Shetland Channel, J. Geophys. Res., 116, C03008, doi:10.1029/2010JC006213.
9. Hosegood, P. and H. van Haren (2004), Near-bed solibores over the continental slope in the Faroe-Shetland Channel,
Deep-Sea Research II 51, 2943-2971, doi:10.1016/j.dsr2.2004.09.016.
10. Grant, C.K., R.C. Dyer and I.M. Legget (1995), Development of a New Metocean Design Basis for the NW Shelf of
Europe, OTC 7685, Proceedings of the 27th Annual Offshore Technology Conference, Houston.
11. Spring, W. et. al. (1999), Deepwater Ocean Currents West of Brittan: Measurements & Criteria Development,
OTC 10747, Proceedings of the 1999 Offshore Technology Conference, Houston.
12. Forristall, G.Z. and C. K. Cooper (1997), Design Current Profiles Using Empirical Orthogonal Function (EOF) and
Inverse FORM Methods, OTC 8267, Proceedings of the 1997 Offshore Technology Conference, Houston.
13. Meling, T.S., K.J. Eik and E. N. Nygaard (2002), An Assessment of EOF Current Scatter Diagrams with Respect to
Riser VIV Fatigue Damage, OMAE2002-28062, Proceedings of OMAE-2002, 21st International Conference on Offshore
Mechanics and Arctic Engineering, Oslo, Norway.
14. Jeans, G., C. Grant and G. Feld (2002), Improved Current Profile Criteria for Deepwater Riser Design, OMAE200228153, Proceedings of OMAE-2002, 21st International Conference on Offshore Mechanics and Arctic Engineering, Oslo,

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Fig 1. Study Region and Measurement Sites. The red trapezoid show the general region of study. The colored symbols in the
legend key show the mooring sites. The white +s show the approximate measurement locations studied by Spring (1999). The
white xs show the locations of 10+ year long moorings in the Nordic WOCE program that have been used to study the
oceanography of the area (e.g., Hughes, 2006).

Table 1: Mooring Data Examined.

site name
water depth
sample rate
date range used
number of days

depths available

analysis depths
(depth below sea

10 minutes
Aug 2001 Jul 2002
Five measured depths
spaced between 100m
above the sea bed to 60m
beneath the sea surface.
60m & 80m to 400m in
40m increments

20 minutes
May 1997- Dec 1997
Upward-looking ADCP
covering upper 200m of
water column with 16m
bin spacing.

10 minutes
Jan 2010 Mar 2011
Upward-looking ADCP
covering upper 200m of
water column with 4m bin

Six point current meters

covering lower 540m of
water column.
20m to 860m in 40m
increments & 890m

Six point current meters

covering lower 800m of
water column.
20m to 1100m in 40m

Table notes: The D500 data used here are a segment from a much longer time series of data at the site. At the D1120 site additional
intermittent upper water column measurements are available (not appropriate for profile analysis). At the D900 site all available data
has been used.


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Fig 2. Regional upper water column circulation. NAW = North Atlantic Water. MNAW = Modified North Atlantic Water.

Fig 3. Regional intermediate and deep waters of the region. FSCDW = Faroe-Shetland Channel Deep Water. Oceanographic studies
typically classify several sources and flow paths of intermediate depth waters. In this figure all intermediate depth waters have
been lumped into a single (IW) classification.

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Fig 4. The complex frontal region as revealed by daily composite satellite thermal images. The left image from Feb 27, 2011 shows
the archetypical situation with the D500 site being impacted by warn along-slope NAW waters with the D1120 site well outside its
influence (currents at D1120 were weak and to the southwest during this day). The right hand image from Jan 11, 2011 shows the
image from the day with the highest near-surface measured currents (strong currents toward the east) at D1120. A major meander
of the NAW slope current is clearly influencing the D1120 site on this day. Contours in this figure were generated using MyOcean
products (http:/

Fig 5. Current-layers West of Shetlands consistent with the

simplified water mass characterizations in Fig 2 and 3. More
sophisticated representations may be found in the oceanographic
literature (e.g., Hughes, 2006).

Fig 6. Seasonal mean temperature profiles in the West of

Shetlands region. The curves were developed by averaging all
data in the red trapezoid of Fig 1 from 1900 onwards from the
database described Boyer (2006).


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Fig 7. De-tided 32-hour low-pass filtered current roses by depth range. From left to right data are from the D500, D900 and D1120
sites. The roses in the upper row are from a depth 60m below the surface, in the middle row are from 400m to 420m below the
surface and in the bottom row from 100m to 120m above the seafloor. The D500 rose 400m below the surface is also 100m above
the seafloor at that site.

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Fig 8. The 5-hour low-pass filtered current roses by depth range. From left to right data are from the D500, D900 and D1120 sites.
The roses in the upper row are from a depth 60m below the surface, in the middle row are from 400m to 420m below the surface and
in the bottom row from 100m to 120m above the seafloor. The D500 rose 400m below the surface is also 100m above the seafloor at
that site.


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Fig 9. Histogram by 10 directional bins of percent occurrence of instantaneous along-slope direction relative to dominant
alongslope direction.

Fig 10. EOF mode shapes in the dominant along-slope sector at the D500, D900 and D1120 sites (from left to right).

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Fig 11. Percent of total variance represented by the first four along-slope sector modes at each site. The upper panel shows the
variance accounted for by the along-slope sector modes in Fig 10. The lower panel shows the unaccounted for variance in the
perpendicular cross-slope direction.

Fig 12. EOF mode shapes in the fixed along-slope dominant direction at the D500, D900 and D1120 sites (from left to right).

Fig 13. Percent of total variance represented by the first four modes at each site when computed for a fixed along-slope (and crossslope) direction. Note the higher amount of variance in the cross-slope direction relative to Fig 11.


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Fig 14. Two-mode to four randomly selected profiles at site D1120.

Fig 15. Four-mode fits for the same profiles as in Fig 14.

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Fig 16. Deep site mode amplitude scatter and correlation (correlation coefficients in plot titles).

Fig 17. Profiles characterized into roughly 200 shapes by site. The color scale at the right indicates the percent occurrence of the
different profile shapes (from 0% to 1%). Profiles which occurred more frequently than 1% of the time are plotted using the shade of
red at the top of the scale.


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Fig 18. Profiles where both surface and bottom filtered speeds are greater than 0.25m/s in the along-slope sector. Color scale
indicates percent occurrence and is the same scale as used in Fig 17.

Fig 19. Profiles where surface filtered speeds are greater than 0.25m/s in the along-slope sector and bottom filtered speeds are less
than -0.25m/s in the along-slope sector. Color scale indicates percent occurrence and is the same scale as used in Fig 17.

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Fig 20. Profiles where both surface and bottom filtered speeds are less than -0.25m/s in the along-slope sector. Color scale indicates
percent occurrence and is the same scale as used in Fig 17.

Table 2: Trends in profile statistics from the slope to deep.

site name
profiles where the dominant direction within the
along-slope sector is within 55o of the
dominant along-slope direction
profiles with upper and lower speed > +25cm/s
along-slope (NE-NE)
profiles with upper speed > +25cm/s and lower
speed < -25cm/s along-slope (NE-SW)
profiles with upper speed <-25cm/s and lower
speed >+25cm/s along-slope (SW-NE)
profiles with upper and lower speed < -25cm/s
along-slope (SW-SW)
ratio of (SW-SW) / (NE-NE)
profiles with absolute value at currents only the
upper or lower evaluation depth >25cm/s




91 %

89 %

83 %

28.7 %



0.1 %

2.8 %

1.1 %



< 0.1 %

0.5 %

4.5 %





35.8 %

63.6 %

52.5 %