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Frank Colberg
C. J. C. Reason


South Atlantic Ocean variability is investigated by means of an ocean general circulation model (ORCA2), forced with the NCEP–NCAR reanalyses for the 1948–99 period. A rotated EOF analysis of the mixed layer temperature suggests a breakdown of the South Atlantic into the following four subdomains, with characteristic spatial and temporal scales: (a) the tropical Atlantic, with mainly interannual fluctuations; (b) the northeastern subtropics, with variability on an interannual to decadal scale; (c) the midlatitudes, with interannual and multidecadal variability; and (d) the southwestern subtropics/midlatitudes with a mixture of interannual and decadal variability. These modes are closely connected to anomalous atmospheric circulation patterns, which induce typical forcing mechanisms for each region.

Temperature changes in the western to central Tropics are found to be driven by changes in surface heat fluxes and the horizontal advection of heat, while in the central to eastern Tropics and the northern Benguela region temperature changes are connected to reduced vertical entrainment, altering the depth of the mixed layer and leading to reduced upwelling.

In the western and eastern subtropics, changes in the net surface fluxes drive the upper-ocean temperature anomalies, and wind-induced vertical mixing dissipates them, inducing changes in the depth of the mixed layer. Anomalous heat and volume transports are found to be related to anomalous Ekman and geostrophic currents in the eastern subtropics. A wind-driven mechanism is suggested, whereby changes in Ekman-related heat and volume transport lead to modulations of the subtropical gyre and thus to changes in the geostrophic-related heat and volume transport.

Temporal variability in the midlatitudes is mainly due to horizontal advection and wind-induced vertical mixing, whereby geostrophic advection of heat dominates in the western to central area, and Ekman-induced heat transports are confined to the eastern midlatitudes.

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