Anomalous Upstream Retroflection in the Agulhas Current

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Science  24 Jun 1988:
Vol. 240, Issue 4860, pp. 1770
DOI: 10.1126/science.240.4860.1770


The Agulhas current, the major western boundary current of the Southern Hemisphere, plays a crucial role in the water mass balance ofthe world oceans by controlling the transfer of thernocline water from the Indian to the Atlantic ocean systems. The main mechanism for such transfer is through the shedding of large rings of warm water at the Agulhas retroflection south ofAfrica. On the basis ofsatellite imagery and drifter tracks, anomalous reversals ofthe current are observed to occur far upstream of its characteristic retroflection location. The observations agree with results of an inertial jet model ofthe current. These anomalous reversals probably cause abrupt and major changes in the fluxes south ofAfrica and thus in the rate of ring shedding. This unusual flow bimodality in a major component of the global ocean heat transport system could have important climatic implications.