On the Variability of Antarctic Circumpolar Current Fronts Inferred from 1992–2011 Altimetry

Yong Sun Kim Ocean Science and Technology School, Korea Maritime and Ocean University, Busan, and Ocean Circulation and Climate Research Department, Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology, Ansan, South Korea

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Alejandro H. Orsi Department of Oceanography, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

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Abstract

Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) fronts, defined as water mass boundaries, have been known to respond to large-scale atmospheric variabilities, especially the Southern Hemisphere annular mode (SAM) and El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Distinct patterns of localized variability in meridional front displacements during 1992–2011 are derived from the analysis of satellite sea surface height data. Major basin-scale differences are found between the southeast Pacific (150°–90°W) and the southeast Indian (75°–150°E) sectors of the ACC. Frontal positions in the southeast Pacific show large year-to-year meridional fluctuations, attributed mostly to ENSO and in part SAM, and no apparent seasonal cycles or long-term trends. In contrast, summer (winter) frontal locations in the southeast Indian extend farther to the south (north) of their long-term mean distribution. A southward drift of ACC fronts is indicated over the Indian sector during the past two decades. This long-term shift is not directly related to the atmospheric variabilities, but this is most likely in response to changes in large-scale ocean circulation, in particular to the poleward expansion of the Indian subtropical gyre. The existence of these localized, contrasting variability patterns suggests that a circumpolar-averaging analysis could possibly smooth out a local climate signal, with an emphasis on a basin-scale investigation for climate studies in the Southern Ocean.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JPO-D-13-0217.s1.

Corresponding author address: Yong Sun Kim, Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology, 787 Haean-ro, Sangrok-gu, Ansan, 426-744, South Korea. E-mail: yongskim@kiost.ac

Abstract

Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) fronts, defined as water mass boundaries, have been known to respond to large-scale atmospheric variabilities, especially the Southern Hemisphere annular mode (SAM) and El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Distinct patterns of localized variability in meridional front displacements during 1992–2011 are derived from the analysis of satellite sea surface height data. Major basin-scale differences are found between the southeast Pacific (150°–90°W) and the southeast Indian (75°–150°E) sectors of the ACC. Frontal positions in the southeast Pacific show large year-to-year meridional fluctuations, attributed mostly to ENSO and in part SAM, and no apparent seasonal cycles or long-term trends. In contrast, summer (winter) frontal locations in the southeast Indian extend farther to the south (north) of their long-term mean distribution. A southward drift of ACC fronts is indicated over the Indian sector during the past two decades. This long-term shift is not directly related to the atmospheric variabilities, but this is most likely in response to changes in large-scale ocean circulation, in particular to the poleward expansion of the Indian subtropical gyre. The existence of these localized, contrasting variability patterns suggests that a circumpolar-averaging analysis could possibly smooth out a local climate signal, with an emphasis on a basin-scale investigation for climate studies in the Southern Ocean.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JPO-D-13-0217.s1.

Corresponding author address: Yong Sun Kim, Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology, 787 Haean-ro, Sangrok-gu, Ansan, 426-744, South Korea. E-mail: yongskim@kiost.ac

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