Indian-Atlantic Transfer of Thermocline Water at the Agulhas Retroflection

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Science  01 Mar 1985:
Vol. 227, Issue 4690, pp. 1030-1033
DOI: 10.1126/science.227.4690.1030


During November and December 1983, two anticyclonic eddies were observed west of the Agulhas Retroflection, apparently spawned at the retroflection. The western eddy, centered 300 kilometers southwest of Cape Town, has a winter cooled core encircled by warm Indian Ocean water. Between Cape Town and the "Cape Town Eddy" is a net geostrophic transport of Indian Ocean thermocline water (14 x 106 cubic meters per second) into the South Atlantic Ocean. This circulation configuration, similar to that observed by earlier researchers, suggests that Indian-Atlantic thermocline exchange is a common occurrence. Such a warmwater link between the Atlantic and Indian oceans would strongly influence global climate patterns. The Indian Ocean water is warmer than the adjacent South Atlantic water and thus represents a heat input of 2.3 x 1013 to 47 x 1013 watts into the Atlantic. The large uncertainty arises from the unknown partition between two possible routes for the return flow from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean: cooler South Atlantic thermocline water or much colder North Atlantic Deep Water. In either case, interocean mass and heat exchange of thermocline water at the Agulhas Retroflection is a distinct likelihood.

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