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A Discussion of Flow Pathways in the Central and Eastern Equatorial Pacific

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  • 1 CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
  • | 2 CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, and Wealth from Oceans Flagship Program, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
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Abstract

An eddy-permitting global ocean model is used to interpret kinematics within the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, from 160°E to the coast of America. Because of high levels of variability in this region, observational studies of meridional flow are contradictory, in particular as to whether the net flow is northward or southward. Unlike most oceanographic datasets, model output can be analyzed at high temporal and spatial resolution, providing clues as to real ocean behavior. In the model, a net southward flow occurs across the equator east of 160°W, at most density layers throughout the year. In the central Pacific, from 160°E to 160°W, the net flow is northward but varies with season and occurs primarily in the mixed layer. This is a key region for the flow of Equatorial Undercurrent water into the Northern Hemisphere. The three-dimensional flow is very complex and seasonally dependent. It is vital that these flows are analyzed in an isopycnal framework, or else the pathways are very misleading. In the first half of the year, evidence is found of meridional tropical cells on either side of the equator out to ±5°. These cells appear to exist without any need for diapycnal downwelling. In the second half of the year, when tropical instability waves are active, the cells are overlaid by a strong surface southward flow that appears to be a bolus-type transport. This transport is not apparent unless the flow is calculated in the aforementioned manner.

* Current affiliation: Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Corresponding author address: Jaclyn N. Brown, Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, P.O. Box 208109, New Haven, CT 06520-8109. Email: Jaclyn.Brown@yale.edu

Abstract

An eddy-permitting global ocean model is used to interpret kinematics within the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, from 160°E to the coast of America. Because of high levels of variability in this region, observational studies of meridional flow are contradictory, in particular as to whether the net flow is northward or southward. Unlike most oceanographic datasets, model output can be analyzed at high temporal and spatial resolution, providing clues as to real ocean behavior. In the model, a net southward flow occurs across the equator east of 160°W, at most density layers throughout the year. In the central Pacific, from 160°E to 160°W, the net flow is northward but varies with season and occurs primarily in the mixed layer. This is a key region for the flow of Equatorial Undercurrent water into the Northern Hemisphere. The three-dimensional flow is very complex and seasonally dependent. It is vital that these flows are analyzed in an isopycnal framework, or else the pathways are very misleading. In the first half of the year, evidence is found of meridional tropical cells on either side of the equator out to ±5°. These cells appear to exist without any need for diapycnal downwelling. In the second half of the year, when tropical instability waves are active, the cells are overlaid by a strong surface southward flow that appears to be a bolus-type transport. This transport is not apparent unless the flow is calculated in the aforementioned manner.

* Current affiliation: Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Corresponding author address: Jaclyn N. Brown, Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, P.O. Box 208109, New Haven, CT 06520-8109. Email: Jaclyn.Brown@yale.edu

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