On the structure, paths, and fluxes associated with Agulhas rings

Elaine L. McDonagh, Karen J. Heywood, Michael P. Meredith

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45 Citations (Scopus)


In January 1993, two Agulhas rings were sampled in the eastern South Atlantic during the World Ocean Circulation Experiment one-time hydrographic section A11. The first of these, Ring 1, was sampled at 36°S, 4°E in the Subtropical Frontal Zone and was smaller and less energetic than other, more typical Agulhas rings, owing partly to its interactions with the North Subtropical Front. The other, Ring 2, was sampled at 33°S, 10°E in the subtropics. This ring was average in size and reasonably representative of the rings observed in the southeast Atlantic during the early 1990s. The path of the rings is found to be dominated by advection in the mean flow rather than self-induced velocities of eddies under the β effect. We observe significant differences in reduced gravity and available heat and salt anomalies in the rings; from these we infer temporal variability in the stratification of rings upon their formation at the Agulhas Retroflection. This temporal variability in the structure of rings will affect the fluxes associated with them. Data collected within Ring 2 show that neglecting consideration of the water beneath the 10°C isotherm underestimates the volume flux by half and the potential temperature and salinity flux by in excess of one third and one half, respectively. Using a base of the 3.5°C isotherm and including the high-salinity intermediate water from the Indian Ocean is found to be more appropriate. With these conditions, six Agulhas rings per year entering the subtropical South Atlantic would equate to a volume flux of 9 Sv and an absolute potential temperature and salinity flux of 84 Sv°C and 322 Sv psu (1 Sv psu ≈ 106 kg s-1). The significant flux of intermediate water from the Indian Ocean may be as important in the return path of the thermohaline circulation as the intermediate water that enters the South Atlantic through Drake Passage. Further, the water associated with Agulhas rings and cooler than 10°C potentially contributes a larger volume flux to the warm water return path than the corresponding surface and upper thermocline water.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21007-21020
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue numberC9
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sep 1999

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