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Intermediate-depth circulation of the Indian and South Pacific Oceans measured by autonomous floats

  • Author(s): Davis, Russ E
  • et al.

As part of the World Ocean Circulation Experiment, 306 autonomous floats were deployed in the tropical and South Pacific Ocean and 228 were deployed in the Indian Ocean to observe the basinwide circulation near 900-m depth. Mean velocities, seasonal variability, and lateral eddy diffusivity from the resultant 2583 float-years of data are presented. Area averages, local function fits, and a novel application of objective mapping are used to estimate the mean circulation. Patterns of mean circulation resemble those at the surface in both basins. Well-developed subtropical gyres, twice as strong in the Indian Ocean as in the Pacific, feed western boundary currents. Tropical gyres are separated by eastward flow along the equator in both hemispheres of both basins, although the Indian subcontinent splits the north Indian tropical gyre. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) and west wind drifts are prominent in both basins, generally tending slightly southward but deviating to the north behind the Del Cano, Kerguelen, and Campbell Plateaus and, of course, South America. Remarkably, the eastern boundaries of the southern subtropical gyres in all three basins apparently occur in the ocean interior, away from land. The Indian Ocean's subtropical gyre, and perhaps part of the South Atlantic's, reaches east to a retroflection just upstream of the Campbell Plateau south of New Zealand. Seasonal variability at 900 m is focused around the equator with weaker variability found near certain bathymetric features. There is a remarkable agreement between the observed seasonable variability and that predicted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)-Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean (ECCO) data-assimilating numerical model. Aside from seasonal effects, eddy variability is greatest along the equator, in tropical and subtropical western basins, and along the ACC. Integrals of velocity across regional passages (Tasman Sea, Mozambique Channel) provide useful reference for hydrographic analyses of transport. Across whole ocean basins, however, the uncertainty associated with the appropriate continuity relation for horizontal flow (e.g., geostrophy vs nondivergence) is comparable to the mean flow.

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