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Southern Ocean Circumpolar FLows, Transformation, Recirculations and Intergyre Exchanges

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» A deep cyclonic gyre in the Australian?Antarctic Basin
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Principle Investigators

Michael S. McCartney
Physical Oceanography Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, 02543 USA
Kathleen A. Donohue
Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, RI 02882, USA

The traditional image of ocean circulation between Australia and Antarctica is of a dominant belt of eastward flow, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, with comparatively weak adjacent westward flows that provide anticyclonic circulation north and cyclonic circulation south of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. This image mostly follows from geostrophic estimates from hydrography using a bottom level of no motion for the eastward flow regime and typically yield transports near 170 Sv. Net eastward transport for this region of about 145 Sv results from subtracting those westward flows. This estimate is compatible with the canonical 134 Sv through Drake Passage with augmentation from Indonesian Throughflow (around 10 Sv).

A new image is developed from World Ocean Circulation Hydrographic Program sections I8S and I9S. These provide two quasi-meridional crossings of the South Australian Basin and the Australian– Antarctic Basin, with full hydrography and two independent direct-velocity measurements (shipboard and lowered acoustic Doppler current profilers). These velocity measurements indicate that the belt of eastward flow is much stronger, 271 ± 49 Sv, than previously estimated because of the presence of eastward barotropic flow. Substantial recirculations exist adjacent to the Antarctic Circumpolar Current: to the north a 38 ± 30 Sv anticyclonic gyre and to the south a 76 ± 26 Sv cyclonic gyre. The net flow between Australia and Antarctica is estimated as 157 ± 58 Sv, which falls within the expected net transport of 145 Sv.

The 38 Sv anticyclonic gyre in the South Australian Basin involves the westward Flinders Current along southern Australia and a substantial 33 Sv Subantarctic Zone recirculation to its south. The cyclonic gyre in the Australian–Antarctic Basin has a substantial 76 Sv westward flow over the continental slope of Antarctica, and 48 ±6 Sv northward-flowing western boundary current along the Kerguelen Plateau near 57ºS. The cyclonic gyre only partially closes within the Australian–Antarctic Basin. It is estimated that 45 Sv bridges westward to the Weddell Gyre through the southern Princess Elizabeth Trough and returns through the northern Princess Elizabeth Trough and the Fawn Trough – where a substantial eastward 38 Sv current is hypothesized. There is evidence that the cyclonic gyre also projects eastward past the Balleny Islands to the Ross Gyre in the South Pacific.

The western boundary current along Kerguelen Plateau collides with the Antarctic Circumpolar Current that enters the Australian–Antarctic Basin through the Kerguelen–St. Paul Island Passage, forming an energetic Crozet–Kerguelen Confluence. Strongest filaments in the meandering Crozet-Kerguelen Confluence reach 100 Sv. Dense water in the western boundary current intrudes beneath the densest water of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current; they intensely mix diapycnally to produce a high potential vorticity signal that extends eastward along the southern flank of the Southeast Indian Ridge. Dense water penetrates through the Ridge into the South Australian Basin. Two escape pathways are indicated, the Australian–Antarctic Discordance Zone near 125°E and the Geelvinck Fracture Zone near 85°E. Ultimately, the bottom water delivered to the South Australian Basin passes north to the Perth Basin west of Australia and east to the Tasman Basin.

Last updated: January 14, 2009

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