South China Sea (SCS) abyssal circulation largely contributes to water renewal, energy budget, and sedimentary processes in the deep ocean. The three-dimensional abyssal circulation west of the Luzon Strait (LS) in the northern SCS was investigated using an array comprising 27 current- and pressure-recording inverted echo sounders. Over 400 days of measurements from June 2018 to July 2019 showed a narrow and strong (∼70 km, ∼2.3 cm s−1 at 2500 dbar) northward current near the steep eastern boundary, while a wide and weak (∼180 km, ∼1.5 cm s−1 at 2500 dbar) southwestward current lies along the subdued western boundary. The circulation showed conspicuous cyclonic patterns with a volume transport of ∼1.21 ± 0.93 Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) and ∼1.59 ± 0.95 Sv below 2500 dbar along the eastern and western boundaries, respectively. The current near the LS was strong in late autumn and early winter but weak in late winter and spring, following the seasonal variation of LS deep-water overflow. However, the southwestward current in the interior SCS was stronger in summer and early autumn but weaker in late winter and early spring. The different seasonal patterns identified near the LS and the interior SCS are attributed to the propagation of seasonal variation. The weak current along the western boundary in August 2018 and February 2019 was dominated by LS deep-water overflow with a time lag of ∼7.5 months. Although eddies in the upper ocean may also contribute to such variation through pressure work, the effect is minor.
Cyclonic circulation in the deep South China Sea (SCS) largely contributes to water renewal, energy budget, and sedimentary processes and influences the transport of dissolved elements, minerals, and pollutants. As an important part of the SCS throughflow, an in-depth analysis of the SCS abyssal circulation may also contribute to understanding Indonesian Throughflow and global climate change. The three-dimensional abyssal circulation west of the Luzon Strait was investigated using large-scale data from June 2018 to July 2019, which provided unprecedented coverage of abyssal circulation in the northeast SCS. The study provides important observational evidence for the existence of SCS abyssal cyclonic circulation. Detailed spatiotemporal structure of abyssal circulation and its variations are presented, and related dynamic processes are discussed.
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Production note: The School of Oceanography, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, State Key Laboratory of Satellite Ocean Environment Dynamics, Second Institute of Oceanography, Ministry of Natural Resources, and the Southern Marine Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory (Zhuhai) contributed equally to the work and should be regarded as co–first institutional affiliations.