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William S. Kessler and Lionel Gourdeau

Abstract

An ocean GCM, interpreted in light of linear models and sparse observations, is used to diagnose the dynamics of the annual cycle of circulation in the western boundary current system of the southwest Pacific Ocean. The simple structure of annual wind stress curl over the South Pacific produces a large region of uniformly phased, stationary thermocline depth anomalies such that the western subtropical gyre spins up and down during the year, directing flow anomalies alternately toward and away from the boundary at its northern end, near 10°S. The response of the western boundary currents is to redistribute these anomalies northward toward the equator and southward to the subtropical gyre, a redistribution that is determined principally by linear Rossby processes, not boundary dynamics. When the subtropical gyre and South Equatorial Current (SEC) are strong (in the second half of the year), the result is both increased equatorward transport of the New Guinea Coastal Current and poleward transport anomalies along the entire Australian coast. Because of this opposite phasing of boundary current anomalies across 10°S, annual migration of the bifurcation point of the total SEC, near 18°S in the mean, has no significance regarding variability of transport from subtropics to equator.

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Alexandre Ganachaud, Lionel Gourdeau, and William Kessler

Abstract

The South Equatorial Current (SEC), the westward branch of the South Pacific subtropical gyre, extends from the equator to 30°S at depth. Linear ocean dynamics predict that the SEC forms boundary currents on the eastern coasts of the South Pacific islands it encounters. Those currents would then detach at the northern and southern tips of the islands, and cross the Coral Sea in the form of jets. The Fiji Islands, the Vanuatu archipelago, and New Caledonia are the major topographic obstacles on the SEC pathway to the Australian coast. Large-scale numerical studies, as well as climatologies, suggest the formation of three jets in their lee: the north Vanuatu jet (NVJ), the north Caledonian jet (NCJ), and the south Caledonian jet (SCJ), implying a bifurcation against the east coast of each island. The flow observed during the SECALIS-2 cruise in December 2004 between Vanuatu and New Caledonia is presented herein. An inverse box model is used to provide quantitative transport estimates with uncertainties and to infer the pathways and boundary current formation. For that particular month, the 0–2000-m SEC inflow was found to be 20 ± 4 Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) between Vanuatu and New Caledonia. Of that, 6 ± 2 Sv bifurcated to the south in a boundary current against the New Caledonia coast (the Vauban Current), and the remainder exited north of New Caledonia, feeding the NCJ. The flow is comparable both above and below the thermocline, while complex topography, associated with oceanic eddy generation, introduces several recirculation features. To the north, the NCJ, which extends down to 1500 m, was fed not only by the SEC inflow, but also by waters coming from the north, which have possibly been recirculated. To the south, a westward current rounds the tip of New Caledonia. A numerical simulation suggests a partial continuity with the deep extension of the Vauban Current (this current would then be the SCJ) while the hydrographic sections are too distant to confirm such continuity.

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Angélique Melet, Jacques Verron, Lionel Gourdeau, and Ariane Koch-Larrouy

Abstract

The Solomon Sea is a key region of the southwest Pacific Ocean, connecting the thermocline subtropics to the equator via western boundary currents (WBCs). Modifications to water masses are thought to occur in this region because of the significant mixing induced by internal tides, eddies, and the WBCs. Despite their potential influence on the equatorial Pacific thermocline temperature and salinity and their related impact on the low-frequency modulation of El Niño–Southern Oscillation, modifications to water masses in the Solomon Sea have never been analyzed to our knowledge. A high-resolution model incorporating a tidal mixing parameterization was implemented to depict and analyze water mass modifications and the Solomon Sea pathways to the equator in a Lagrangian quantitative framework. The main routes from the Solomon Sea to the equatorial Pacific occur through the Vitiaz and Solomon straits, in the thermocline and intermediate layers, and mainly originate from the Solomon Sea south inflow and from the Solomon Strait itself. Water mass modifications in the model are characterized by a reduction of the vertical temperature and salinity gradients over the water column: the high salinity of upper thermocline water [Subtropical Mode Water (STMW)] is eroded and exported toward surface and deeper layers, whereas a downward heat transfer occurs over the water column. Consequently, the thermocline water temperature is cooled by 0.15°–0.3°C from the Solomon Sea inflows to the equatorward outflows. This temperature modification could weaken the STMW anomalies advected by the subtropical cell and thereby diminish the potential influence of these anomalies on the tropical climate. The Solomon Sea water mass modifications can be partially explained (≈60%) by strong diapycnal mixing in the Solomon Sea. As for STMW, about a third of this mixing is due to tidal mixing.

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Xavier Couvelard, Patrick Marchesiello, Lionel Gourdeau, and Jerome Lefèvre

Abstract

The oceanic circulation entering the tropical southwest Pacific (SWP) is dominated by the broad westward flow of the South Equatorial Current (SEC), which is forced by the trade winds. It has been argued that the numerous islands of the SWP are able to restructure the SEC into a series of deep and narrow zonal jets, which control important pathways connecting equatorial and extraequatorial signals. The primary objective of this paper is to improve the understanding of the structure and dynamics of SWP zonal jets, giving special attention to topographic effects. This study is based on the use of a high-resolution regional oceanic model, whose solution is compared with observations, as well as with solutions from global models and the Sverdrup relation. The model used here indicates that the regional topography drives a general equatorward shift of the SEC, which is beneficial to the North Fiji, North Vanuatu, and North Caledonian jets. A depth-integrated vorticity budget shows that this topographic effect is considerably attenuated by baroclinicity and advection processes, but not to the point of total compensation as often admitted for the interior ocean. The effect of nonlinear advection is to allow flow rectification of the jets fluctuations, taking the form of zonally elongated dipole circulations in the leeward side of the islands.

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Angélique Melet, Lionel Gourdeau, William S. Kessler, Jacques Verron, and Jean-Marc Molines

Abstract

In the southwest Pacific, thermocline waters connecting the tropics to the equator via western boundary currents (WBCs) transit through the Solomon Sea. Despite its importance in feeding the Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC) and its related potential influence on the low-frequency modulation of ENSO, the circulation inside the Solomon Sea is poorly documented. A model has been implemented to analyze the mean and the seasonal variability of the Solomon Sea thermocline circulation. The circulation involves an inflow from the open southern Solomon Sea, which is distributed via WBCs between the three north exiting straits of the semiclosed Solomon Sea. The system of WBCs is found to be complex. Its main feature, the New Guinea Coastal Undercurrent, splits in two branches: one flowing through Vitiaz Strait and the other one, the New Britain Coastal Undercurrent (NBCU), exiting at Solomon Strait. East of the Solomon Sea, the encounter of the South Equatorial Current (SEC) with the Solomon Islands forms a previously unknown current, which the authors call the Solomon Islands Coastal Undercurrent (SICU). The NBCU, SEC, and SICU participate in the feeding of the New Ireland Coastal Undercurrent (NICU), which retroflects to the Equatorial Undercurrent, providing the most direct western boundary EUC connection, which is particularly active in June–August. The Solomon Sea WBC seasonal variability results from the combination of equatorial dynamics, remotely forced Rossby waves north of 10°S, and the spinup and spindown of the subtropical gyre as a response of Rossby waves forced south of 10°S.

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Lionel Gourdeau, William S. Kessler, Russ E. Davis, Jeff Sherman, Christophe Maes, and Elodie Kestenare

Abstract

The South Equatorial Current (SEC) entering the Coral Sea through the gap between New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands was observed by an autonomous underwater vehicle (Spray glider) and an overlapping oceanographic cruise during July–October 2005. The measurements of temperature, salinity, and absolute velocity included high-horizontal-resolution profiles to 600-m depth by the glider, and sparser, 2000-m-deep profiles from the cruise. These observations confirm the splitting of the SEC into a North Vanuatu Jet (NVJ) and North Caledonian Jet (NCJ), with transport above 600 m of about 20 and 12 Sv, respectively. While the 300-km-wide NVJ is associated with the slope of the main thermocline and is thus found primarily above 300 m, the NCJ is a narrow jet about 100 km wide just at the edge of the New Caledonian reef. It extends to at least a 1500-m depth with very little shear above 600 m and has speeds of more than 20 cm s−1 to at least 1000 m. An Argo float launched east of New Caledonia with a parking depth fixed at 1000 m became embedded in the NCJ and crossed the glider/cruise section at high speed about 3 months before the glider, suggesting that the jet is the continuation of a western boundary current along the east side of the island and extends across the Coral Sea to the coast of Australia. In the lee of New Caledonia, the glider passed through a region of eddies whose characteristics are poorly understood.

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