We examine the relative dispersion of surface drifters deployed in the POLEWARD experiment in the Nordic Seas during 2007–2008. The drifters were launched in pairs and triplets, yielding 67 pairs with an initial separation of 2 km or less. There were 26 additional pairs from drifters which subsequently came near one another. As these produced statistically identical dispersion to the original pairs, we used them as well, yielding 93 pairs. The relative dispersion exhibits three phases. The first occurs during the first two days, at spatial scales less than 10 km. The dispersion increases approximately exponentially during this period, with an e-folding time of roughly half a day. During the second phase, from 2 to roughly 10 days and scales of 10 to roughly 100 km, the dispersion increases as a power law, with r2 α t3. At the largest spatial and temporal scales, the dispersion increases linearly in time and the pair velocities are uncorrelated, consistent with diffusive spreading. We use a stochastic model with a representative mean flow to test the effect of the mean shear on dispersion. The model produces dispersion comparable to the observed during the second and third phases but fails to capture other statistics, such as the PDFs of the displacements. These statistics are instead suggestive of an inverse energy cascade, from the deformation scale up to 100 km.
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