Complex two-dimensional nearshore current patterns are generated by feedbacks between sub-aqueous morphology and momentum imparted on the water column by breaking waves, winds, and tides. These non-stationary features, such as rip currents and circulation cells, respond to changing environmental conditions and underlying morphology. However, using fixed instruments to observe nearshore currents is limiting due to the high costs and logistics necessary to achieve adequate spatial sampling resolution. A new technique for processing surf-zone imagery, WAMFlow, quantifies fluid velocities to reveal complex, multi-scale (10 s–1000 s meters) nearshore surface circulation patterns. We apply the concept of a wave-averaged movie (WAM) to measure surf-zone circulation patterns on spatial scales of kilometers in the alongshore and 100 s of meters in the cross-shore. The approach uses a rolling average of 2 Hz optical imagery, removing the dominant optical clutter of incident waves, to leave the residual foam or water turbidity features carried by the flow. These residual features are tracked as quasi-passive tracers in space and time using optical flow, which solves for u
as a function of image intensity gradients in x
, and t
. Surf zone drifters were deployed over multiple days with varying nearshore circulations to validate the optically derived flow patterns. Root mean square error are reduced to 0.1 m per second after filtering based on image attributes. The optically derived patterns captured longshore currents, rip currents, and gyres within the surf zone. Quantifying nearshore circulation patterns using low-cost image platforms and open-source computer vision algorithms presents the potential to further our understanding of fundamental surf zone dynamics.
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