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An Oceanic Current against the Wind: How Does Taiwan Island Steer Warm Water into the East China Sea?

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  • 1 Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
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Abstract

Along the Taiwan Strait (<100 m in depth) a northeastward flow persists in all seasons despite the annually averaged wind stress that is strongly southwestward. The forcing mechanism of this countercurrent is examined by using a simple ocean model. The results from a suite of experiments demonstrate that it is the Kuroshio that plays the deciding role for setting the flow direction along the Taiwan Strait. The momentum balance along the strait is mainly between the wind stress, friction, and pressure gradient. Since both wind stress and friction act against the northward flow, it is most likely the pressure gradient that forces the northward flow, as noted in some previous studies. What remains unknown is why there is a considerable pressure difference between the southern and northern strait. The Kuroshio flows along the east coast of Taiwan, and thus the western boundary current layer dynamics applies there. Integrating the momentum equation along Taiwan’s east coast shows that there must be a pressure difference between the southern and the northern tip of Taiwan to counter a considerable friction exerted by the mighty Kuroshio. This same pressure difference is also felt on the other side of the island where it forces the northward flow through Taiwan Strait. The model shows that the local wind stress acts to dampen this northward flow. This mechanism can be illustrated by an integral constraint for flow around an island.

Corresponding author address: Jiayan Yang, Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543. Email: jyang@whoi.edu

Abstract

Along the Taiwan Strait (<100 m in depth) a northeastward flow persists in all seasons despite the annually averaged wind stress that is strongly southwestward. The forcing mechanism of this countercurrent is examined by using a simple ocean model. The results from a suite of experiments demonstrate that it is the Kuroshio that plays the deciding role for setting the flow direction along the Taiwan Strait. The momentum balance along the strait is mainly between the wind stress, friction, and pressure gradient. Since both wind stress and friction act against the northward flow, it is most likely the pressure gradient that forces the northward flow, as noted in some previous studies. What remains unknown is why there is a considerable pressure difference between the southern and northern strait. The Kuroshio flows along the east coast of Taiwan, and thus the western boundary current layer dynamics applies there. Integrating the momentum equation along Taiwan’s east coast shows that there must be a pressure difference between the southern and the northern tip of Taiwan to counter a considerable friction exerted by the mighty Kuroshio. This same pressure difference is also felt on the other side of the island where it forces the northward flow through Taiwan Strait. The model shows that the local wind stress acts to dampen this northward flow. This mechanism can be illustrated by an integral constraint for flow around an island.

Corresponding author address: Jiayan Yang, Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543. Email: jyang@whoi.edu

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