Erik van Sebille, Peter Jan van Leeuwen, Arne Biastoch, and Wilhelmus P. M. de Ruijter
In Journal of Geophysical Research, 2010, volume 115, page C03010, doi:10.1029/2009JC005585
The Indian Ocean water that ends up in the Atlantic Ocean detaches from the Agulhas Current retroflection predominantly in the form of Agulhas rings and cyclones. Using numerical Lagrangian float trajectories in a high-resolution numerical ocean model, the fate of coherent structures near the Agulhas Current retroflection is investigated. It is shown that within the Agulhas Current, upstream of the retroflection, the spatial distributions of floats ending in the Atlantic Ocean and floats ending in the Indian Ocean are to a large extent similar. This indicates that Agulhas leakage occurs mostly through the detachment of Agulhas rings.
After the floats detach from the Agulhas Current, the ambient water quickly looses its relative vorticity. The Agulhas rings thus seem to decay and loose much of their water in the Cape Basin. A cluster analysis reveals that most water in the Agulhas Current is within clusters of 180 km in diameter. Halfway the Cape Basin there is an increase in the number of larger clusters with low relative vorticity, which carry the bulk of the Agulhas leakage transport through the Cape Basin. This upward cascade with respect to the length scales of the leakage, in combination with a power-law decay of the magnitude of relative vorticity, might be an indication that the decay of Agulhas rings is somewhat comparable to the decay of two-dimensional turbulence.
The distribution of Agulhas leakage as a function of relative vorticity for floats that cross 19°E south of 36°S, as they cross 19°E (gray line) and as they cross the Good Hope line (black line). The areas under the two distributions are equal, since only the floats that end in the Atlantic Ocean are used and each float that crosses 19°E also crosses the Good Hope line. At 19°E, the magnitude of relative vorticity is high, and on their path toward the Good Hope line the floats loose that relative vorticity.
An edited version of this paper was published by AGU. Copyright 2010 American Geophysical Union.