National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2010

Wyrtki Jet dynamics: Seasonal variability

Nagura, M., and M.J. McPhaden

J. Geophys. Res., 115, C07009, doi: 10.1029/2009JC005922 (2010)

This study examines the dynamics of the Wyrtki jets, which are strong equatorial zonal flows that occur typically during boreal spring and fall in the Indian Ocean. Our diagnosis relies primarily on a continuously stratified linear longwave ocean model driven by QuikSCAT zonal winds. Model results, which compare well with satellite altimetry and in situ current observations, indicate that the zonal currents propagate westward along the equator at semiannual periods with an average speed of −1.5 m s−1. This propagation speed is three times faster than the propagation speed of the dominant wave mode in model zonal velocity, namely the first meridional, second baroclinic mode Rossby wave. We interpret this result in terms of a superposition of Rossby waves on a wind‐forced jet, with the jet stronger than the waves by a factor of 2. Sea surface height (SSH), on the other hand, shows propagating features that vary in both speed and direction from region to region. This contrasting behavior between SSH and zonal velocity results from differing influences of Kelvin and Rossby wave dynamics on the variability. These results are in many respects analogous to the distinction between SSH and zonal current behavior found in previous studies of the equatorial Pacific and Atlantic oceans on seasonal time scales.

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