Origins and impacts of mesoscale meanders in the Agulhas Current

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Shane Elipot and Lisa M Beal, University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Miami, FL, United States
The Agulhas Current (AC) is the western boundary current of the South Indian subtropical gyre and is also the pathway for the inter-basin exchange of water, heat and salt between the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, and thus a crucial part of the global overturning circulation of the world ocean.
The AC, which otherwise flows stably along the coast of South Africa, undergoes dramatic offshore excursions from its mean path, forming large mesoscale solitary meanders propagating downstream and potentially linked to the leakage of Indian Ocean waters to the South Atlantic. These irregular meander events have been referred to as Natal Pulses.
Here we present new observations and analyses of Agulhas meanders using full-depth velocity mooring observations from the Agulhas Current Time series experiment (ACT). Detailed analyses of the in-situ velocity reveal important differences between the behavior of the flow during solitary meander events and during meander events of smaller amplitude. During solitary meanders, an onshore cyclonic circulation and an offshore anticyclonic circulation act in concert to displace the jet offshore, leading to sudden and strong positive conversion of kinetic energy of the mean flow to the meander. In contrast, smaller amplitude meanderings are principally represented by a single cyclonic circulation spanning the entire jet that acts to displace the jet without significantly extracting kinetic energy from the mean flow. Solitary meander events can be traced upstream using satellite altimetry and linked to either Mozambique Channel eddies or Madagascar dipoles, the latter possibly part of a basin-wide pattern of propagating sea level anomalies consistent with Rossby wave dynamics. However, only a small number of these anomalies lead to solitary meanders. Altimetric observations suggest 1.5 meanders per year and show that the two-year period during ACT when no events were observed is unprecedented in the 20-year satellite record.