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Inter-ocean exchange around Australia and its relation to regional and global climate

Funded project in the 2013 Discovery Early Career Research Award (DECRA) round by the Australian Research Council (ARC).

Summary of Project for the Public Release

The flow of water from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean is important to both regional and global climate. Most of the water flows through the Indonesian Archipelago, but there is also a westward flow south of Tasmania. We will study the dynamics of this inter-ocean exchange and investigate how it impacts regional climate and marine ecosystems.

Movie of Tasman leakage

Tasman leakage using Lagrangian particles, as described in Van Sebille et al, 2012. The particles are released in south of Tasmania in the fine-resolution OFES model and then advected both forward and backward in time. The influence of mesoscale eddies is clearly visible.

The circulation around Australia

The circulation around australia
A schematic showing the ocean current systems around Australia relevant to this study. The Tasman leakage is depicted with a dashed line, as it is not a traditional ocean current but rather a combination of eddies and broad westward flow.

PhD position open (see also the pdf letter)

Applications are invited for a PhD scholarship to work on a project investigating the pathways of water in the oceans around Australia, with particular focus on the dynamics of the so-called Tasman leakage.

In the upper ocean, water flows from the Pacific into the Indian Ocean on both the northern and southern sides of Australia. These pathways are part of a global circulation that transports large amounts of heat, carbon and nutrients around the planet and as such plays an important role in global climate. Whereas the flow north of Australia (the Indonesian Throughflow, ITF) is relatively well studied, the flow south of Australia (the Tasman leakage) is currently not well understood. The goal of this project is to reconcile these two pathways south and north of Australia and understand how they relate to each other and to regional and global climate.

In particular, the successful PhD student would be part of a team that works on analyzing the volume, heat, salt and nutrient budgets and fluxes around the South of Australia, using Lagrangian particles in high-resolution ocean models.

The PhD scholarship is tenable for a period of 3 years + 6 months extension (if granted), with the successful candidate able to mold the project to match their background, interests and expertise. Applicants should have a strong academic track record including an Honours Class I, or equivalent. Honours graduates with a strong academic track record in physics and/or mathematics are particularly encouraged to apply.

This PhD scholarship is awarded at the APA equivalent rate of $23,728 pa. Successful applicants who obtain or have recently been awarded an APA scholarship in either the current or future rounds may be awarded a $12,000 pa top-up.

International students are also encouraged but must additionally apply for a UNSW International Research Scholarship, starting Semester 2 2013, which open January 2013.

Applicants should send a full academic transcript, a short CV and an expression of interest to Bronwen Smith via

For further information, contact Dr Erik van Sebille via

For further details of the CCRC, its research activities and staff, see

Summary of Proposal

Upper ocean water flows from the Pacific into the Indian Ocean on both the northern and southern sides of Australia. The aim of this proposal is to study these pathways of ocean flow and understand how they relate to each other. This study is significant as the connection between the Pacific and Indian Ocean is one of the key factors controlling Australian and global climate. This will be the first study to relate all the pathways of ocean flow around Australia, and to elucidate the dynamics of the poorly understood Tasman leakage. The outcome will be a better comprehension of one of the bottlenecks in the global ocean circulation and how this might react to climate change, as well as its role in carrying nutrients around Australia.