The southern border between the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta is, in places, very irregular. It might even seem to be random at first glance. Yet, there is some logical reasoning behind what is there. This border was measured and established over one hundred years ago – far before GPS or other advanced survey techniques were around to help out. So how was the border established?
It has to do with hydrology. In other words, at the highest peak, the direction of rainfall flow establishes the border. Where rainfall flows to the west, it’s British Columbia, and when it flows to the east, it’s Alberta. It’s this clear reasoning that helps to distinguish things.
But we’re not always so lucky to have something to help distinguish things. At first glance, you might be looking at a seemingly random result without any clue how you landed there. When it comes to oceanographic mooring deflection, there are two primary sources of drag: the buoy and the mooring. However, distinguishing between what is more critical to mooring deflection can be a real challenge.
The vertical deflection of a mooring is crucial to understand
This vertical deflection, also called knockdown, is an increase in depth of all the mooring components from steady drag loads. Because it’s an increase in depth, you need to watch any parts approaching their depth rating. Flotation that exceeds depth rating may fail and result in the mooring collapsing to the seabed. But knockdown may have detrimental effects on instrumentation data quality, too. But regardless, you can’t get a good idea of mooring knockdown without considering the drag loads on the system.
Why is drag significant in calculating knockdown?
Without any currents and the resulting drag load, subsurface moorings are perfectly vertical in the water column. Knockdown results when a subsurface mooring leans over from the effects of steady loads like current drag. All components on the mooring will have some drag. But often, there are two primary sources of drag that tend to dominate mooring deflection and knockdown. The first is the drag on the primary buoy.
The primary buoy is a significant source of drag for a few reasons
The primary buoy is at or near the top of the mooring and often does the bulk of the work holding everything up in the water column. This means it tends to be relatively large compared to other components. On top of this, generally, but not always, currents tend to be larger higher up in the water column. This means the primary buoy is likely in higher flows than the rest of the mooring. Drag is proportional to structure size and flow speed, which explains why the primary buoy is a significant source of total drag on the mooring. But it’s not the only source to consider. The other source of drag to consider is the mooring line itself.
At first glance, a mooring line may seem minuscule compared to the primary buoy
Often the diameter of the mooring wire is only a tiny fraction of the size of the primary buoy. But the problem is that the drag area of the mooring is a function of both the diameter and the mooring length. When you consider the entire length of the mooring, the drag area can often be comparable to the top float. There is often at least some kind of current profile through the water column, and this means there can be a substantial amount of drag that accumulates over the whole system.
However, there are more details to the drag on the mooring than the drag area. The actual current profile is vital to get right. The inclination angle the mooring makes in the flow is a factor, too. The effect of inclination on drag is not something you can estimate as quickly by hand as by comparing drag areas. But suffice to say, it’s important enough that you shouldn’t ignore it, and it may even surprise you how important it can be.
How are these effects calculated?
Mooring deflection is typically calculated using well-established numerical techniques that factor in all mooring components, dimensions, and forces in a specific current profile. Purpose-built software like ProteusDS Oceanographic uses geometry, weight and buoyancy of the parts, and typical drag parameters to resolve the mooring deflection. The mooring deflection is a calculation of all these effects together.
So what’s more important: mooring or buoy drag?
It’s not easy to know, in general, what is more important. But we can use a validated example to show mooring and buoy drag contributions. NOAA CO-OPS uses the Deep Water Elliptical ADCP Buoy (DWEAB) design as a standardized design to measure the top portion of the current profile in various locations in the coastal United States. In a recent deployment in a high current region of the Gulf Stream, mooring knockdown field measurements show 48m in 2m/s flow. Mooring knockdown calculated by ProteusDS Oceanographic reached 52m in a 2m/s flow, reaching reasonably close to the field data results. The primary buoy is a large 58″ Mooring Systems Inc Elliptical float, while the mooring is only a 1/4″ in diameter. At first glance, it may seem like the primary buoy would dominate the mooring deflection because of its larger drag area. So how can we get an idea of how much buoy and mooring drag contribute to the knockdown?
To conceptually illustrate this, we looked at two additional load cases. Mooring deflection was calculated with drag on the primary buoy turned off and then again with the drag on the mooring line turned off.
The resulting numerically calculated knockdown with only primary buoy drag was 25m, while the knockdown with only mooring drag was 20m. Note that the total expected knockdown is not calculated by adding these deflections together. This particular example aims to give a rough idea about their contributions to the mooring knockdown for this system. In this specific example, the mooring drag is almost as significant as the buoy drag.
What if you don’t know the current profile ahead of a deployment?
A knockdown calculation is only as good as the information you have. Of course, before deployment, you may not have much information about the water flow in a region. In this case, it helps to think more about the boundaries of the problem rather than finding the most accurate or probably current profile. The most conservative approach is a uniform current profile. But that may only be appropriate in areas of intense flow. A linear shear, or power profile, may be more realistic. Still, it’s up to the designer to use their judgement and experience for what works best.
Mooring knockdown is crucial to understand ahead of deployment. This deflection can compromise data quality and damage equipment if depth ratings are exceeded. Knockdown happens in subsurface moorings as it leans over from steady current drag. The primary buoy is often a sizable source of drag in the system. But it’s a mistake to ignore the drag from the mooring line because it can make a surprising contribution to deflection. Unlike considering rainfall to determine a border between two Canadian provinces, there isn’t a way to easily distinguish the contribution of deflection from the primary buoy and mooring. Instead, the best approach is to make sure your analysis considers drag from all components at some point in the design process.
As we saw with the DWEAB mooring in the high flow Gulf Stream current, drag loads can be a dominating, even overwhelming, force. But there are times when drag doesn’t do much at all to floating systems, even if there is a lot of motion. Read the next article here about why viscous drag forces can be underwhelming at damping floating system motion.
Download and explore the ProteusDS Oceanographic DWEAB 325m mooring file in the collection of designs available for download here.