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Decadal Changes in the South Indian Ocean Thermocline

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  • 1 Southampton Oceanography Centre, Southampton, Hampshire, United Kingdom
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Abstract

A significant change in properties of the thermocline is observed across the whole Indian Ocean 32°S section between 1987 and 2002. This change represents a reversal of the pre-1987 freshening and decreasing oxygen concentrations of the upper thermocline that had been interpreted as a fingerprint of anthropogenic climate change. The thermocline at the western end of the section (40°–70°E) is occupied by a single variety of mode water with a potential temperature of around 13°C. The thermocline at the eastern end of the 32°S section is occupied by mode waters with a range of properties cooling from ∼11°C at 80°E to ∼9°C near the Australian coast. The change in θS properties between 1987 and 2002 is zonally coherent east of 80°E, with a maximum change on isopycnals at 11.6°C. Ages derived from helium–tritium data imply that the mode waters at all longitudes take about the same time to reach 32°S from their respective ventilation sites. Dissolved oxygen concentration changes imply that all of the mode water reached the section ∼20% faster in 2002 than in 1987.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Elaine L. McDonagh, Southampton Oceanography Centre, Empress Dock, Southampton SO14 3ZH, United Kingdom. Email: elm@soc.soton.ac.uk

Abstract

A significant change in properties of the thermocline is observed across the whole Indian Ocean 32°S section between 1987 and 2002. This change represents a reversal of the pre-1987 freshening and decreasing oxygen concentrations of the upper thermocline that had been interpreted as a fingerprint of anthropogenic climate change. The thermocline at the western end of the section (40°–70°E) is occupied by a single variety of mode water with a potential temperature of around 13°C. The thermocline at the eastern end of the 32°S section is occupied by mode waters with a range of properties cooling from ∼11°C at 80°E to ∼9°C near the Australian coast. The change in θS properties between 1987 and 2002 is zonally coherent east of 80°E, with a maximum change on isopycnals at 11.6°C. Ages derived from helium–tritium data imply that the mode waters at all longitudes take about the same time to reach 32°S from their respective ventilation sites. Dissolved oxygen concentration changes imply that all of the mode water reached the section ∼20% faster in 2002 than in 1987.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Elaine L. McDonagh, Southampton Oceanography Centre, Empress Dock, Southampton SO14 3ZH, United Kingdom. Email: elm@soc.soton.ac.uk

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