Winter Cold tongue in the South China Sea

Monday, 15 December 2014
Bijoy Thompson1, Pavel Tkalich1 and Paola M Rizzoli2, (1)National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore, (2)MIT, Cambridge, MA, United States
The South China Sea (SCS) surface circulation is mainly forced by seasonally varying monsoon winds and flow through the Luzon Strait. In winter, positive wind curl (due to the northeasterly winds) in the southern half of SCS drives a cyclonic gyre. The strong western boundary current south off Vietnam on the continental slope separates the Sunda Shelf to the west and deep SCS basin to the east. The advection of cold water due to the slope current results in a unique cold tongue in Sea Surface Temperature (SST) from November to February. The inter-annual variability of this cold-tongue is investigated by analyzing the NCEP OISST version-2 dataset. Dynamics of the evolution, growth and decay of the cold tongue during the period 1982-2012 are addressed using the OISST and ERA-interim surface wind datasets. The role of water mass advection in the inter-annual variability of SCS cold-tongue is also investigated through the analysis of lateral heat fluxes estimated from NCEP-Climate Forecast System Re-analysis dataset. The vertically integrated Ekman transport (i.e., the Sverdrup transport) plays a vital role in the formation this cold tongue. The southward Sverdrup transport brings cold water from the northern parts of the SCS. Inter-annual variations in the cold tongue SST during the northeast monsoon (November to February) are strongly linked to the north-south Sverdrup and zonal Ekman transport anomalies. The positive SST anomalies over the cold-tongue region are associated with positive transport anomalies, reflecting the weakening of the southward and westward advection. The formation and termination of this cold tongue has significant correlation with the El Nino phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean.