Based on long-term mooring-array and satellite observations, three-dimensional structure and interannual variability of the Kuroshio Loop Current (KLC) in the northeastern South China Sea (SCS) were investigated. The 3-year moored data between 2014–2017 revealed that the KLC mainly occurred in winter and it exhibited significant interannual variability with moderate, weak, and strong strengths in the winters of 2014/2015, 2015/2016 and 2016/2017, respectively. Spatially, the KLC structure was initially confined to the upper 500 m near the Luzon Strait but it became more barotropic with kinetic energy transferring from the baroclinic mode to the barotropic mode when it extended into the SCS interior. Through analyzing the historical altimeter data between 1993–2019, it is found that the KLC event in 2016/2017 winter is the strongest one since 1993. Moored data-based energetics analysis suggested that the growth of this KLC event was primarily fed by the strong wind work associated with the strengthened northeast monsoon in that La Niña-year winter. By examining all of the historical KLC events, it is found that the strength of KLC is significantly modulated by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, stronger in La Niña and weaker in El Niño years. This interannual modulation could be explained by the strengthened (weakened) northeast monsoon associated with the anomalous atmospheric cyclone (anticyclone) in the western North Pacific during the La Niña (El Niño) years, which inputs more (less) energy and negative vorticity southwest of Taiwan that is favorable (unfavorable) for the development of KLC.

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