Surface geostrophic currents across the Antarctic circumpolar current in Drake Passage from 1992 to 2004

Cunningham, S.A.; Pavic, M.. 2007 Surface geostrophic currents across the Antarctic circumpolar current in Drake Passage from 1992 to 2004. Progress in Oceanography, 73 (3-4). 296-310. 10.1016/j.pocean.2006.07.010

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The Southern Ocean plays an important role in the global overturning circulation as a significant proportion of deep water is converted into intermediate and deeper water masses in this region. Recently, a secular trend has been reported in wind stress around the Southern Ocean and it is thought theoretically that the strength of the ACC is closely related to wind stress, so one consequence should be a corresponding increase in ACC transport and hence changes in the rate of the global overturning. There are no long-term data sets of ACC transport and so we must examine other data that may also respond to changing wind stress. Here we calculate surface currents in Drake Passage every seven days over 11.25 years from 1992 to 2004. We combine surface velocity anomalies calculated from satellite altimeter sea surface heights with measured surface currents. Since 1992, the UK has regularly occupied WOCE hydrographic section SR1b across the ACC in Drake Passage. From seven hydrographic sections surface currents are estimated by referencing relative geostrophic velocities from CTD sections with current measurements made by shipboard and lowered acoustic Doppler current profilers. Combining the seven estimates of surface currents with the altimeter data reduces bias in the estimates of average currents over time through Drake Passage and we show that surface current anomalies estimated by satellite and in situ observations are in good agreement. The strongest surface currents are found in the Subantarctic and Polar Fronts with average speeds of 50 cm/s and 35 cm/s, respectively and are inversely correlated, so that maximum westward flow in one corresponds to minimum westward flow in the other. The average cross-sectional weighted surface velocity from 1992 to 2004 is 16.7 ± 0.2 cm/s. A spectral analysis of the average surface current has only weakly increasing energy at higher frequencies and there is no dominant mode of variability. The standard deviation of the seven day currents is 0.68 cm/s and a running 12 month average has only a slightly smaller standard deviation of 0.52 ± 0.16 cm/s. The southern annular mode (SAM) measures the circumpolar average of wind stress and like the surface currents its spectrum has slightly increased energy at frequencies greater than 1 cpy. A cospectral analysis of these, averaging cospectra of five slightly overlapping 36 month segments improve statistical reliability, suggests that there is coherence between them at 1 cpy with the currents leading changes in the Southern annular mode. We conclude that the SAM and average Drake Passage surface currents are weakly correlated with no dominant co-varying modes, and hence predicting Southern Ocean transport variability from the SAM is not likely to give significant results and that secular trends in surface currents are likely to be masked by weekly and interannual variability.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.1016/j.pocean.2006.07.010
ISSN: 0079-6611
Additional Keywords: Southern Ocean; Drake Passage; WOCE section SR1b; Antarctic circumpolar current; Surface currents; Satellite altimetry; Acoustic doppler current profiler; CTD; Southern annular mode
Date made live: 21 Nov 2007 +0 (UTC)

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