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Benjamin R. Loveday, Jonathan V. Durgadoo, Chris J. C. Reason, Arne Biastoch, and Pierrick Penven

Abstract

The relationship between the Agulhas Current and the Agulhas leakage is not well understood. Here, this is investigated using two basin-scale and two global ocean models of incrementally increasing resolution. The response of the Agulhas Current is evaluated under a series of sensitivity experiments, in which idealized anomalies, designed to geometrically modulate zonal trade wind stress, are applied across the Indian Ocean Basin. The imposed wind stress changes exceed plus or minus two standard deviations from the annual-mean trade winds and, in the case of intensification, are partially representative of recently observed trends. The Agulhas leakage is quantified using complimentary techniques based on Lagrangian virtual floats and Eulerian passive tracer flux. As resolution increases, model behavior converges and the sensitivity of the leakage to Agulhas Current transport anomalies is reduced. In the two eddy-resolving configurations tested, the leakage is insensitive to changes in Agulhas Current transport at 32°S, though substantial eddy kinetic energy anomalies are evident. Consistent with observations, the position of the retroflection remains stable. The decoupling of Agulhas Current variability from the Agulhas leakage suggests that while correlations between the two may exist, they may not have a clear dynamical basis. It is suggested that present and future Agulhas leakage proxies should be considered in the context of potentially transient forcing regimes.

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Jonathan V. Durgadoo, Benjamin R. Loveday, Chris J. C. Reason, Pierrick Penven, and Arne Biastoch

Abstract

The Agulhas Current plays a crucial role in the thermohaline circulation through its leakage into the South Atlantic Ocean. Under both past and present climates, the trade winds and westerlies could have the ability to modulate the amount of Indian–Atlantic inflow. Compelling arguments have been put forward suggesting that trade winds alone have little impact on the magnitude of Agulhas leakage. Here, employing three ocean models for robust analysis—a global coarse-resolution, a regional eddy-permitting, and a nested high-resolution eddy-resolving configuration—and systematically altering the position and intensity of the westerly wind belt in a series of sensitivity experiments, it is shown that the westerlies, in particular their intensity, control the leakage. Leakage responds proportionally to the intensity of westerlies up to a certain point. Beyond this, through the adjustment of the large-scale circulation, energetic interactions occur between the Agulhas Return Current and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current that result in a state where leakage no longer increases. This adjustment takes place within one or two decades. Contrary to previous assertions, these results further show that an equatorward (poleward) shift in westerlies increases (decreases) leakage. This occurs because of the redistribution of momentum input by the winds. It is concluded that the reported present-day leakage increase could therefore reflect an unadjusted oceanic response mainly to the strengthening westerlies over the last few decades.

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