National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2015

Seasonal-to-interannual time-scale dynamics of the equatorial undercurrent in the Indian Ocean

Chen, G., W. Han, Y. Li, D. Wang, and M.J. McPhaden

J. Phys. Oceanogr., 45(6), 1532–1553, doi: 10.1175/JPO-D-14-0225.1 (2015)

This paper investigates the structure and dynamics of the Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC) of the Indian Ocean by analyzing in situ observations and reanalysis data and performing ocean model experiments using an ocean general circulation model and a linear continuously stratified ocean model. The results show that the EUC regularly occurs in each boreal winter and spring, particularly during February and April, consistent with existing studies. The EUC generally has a core depth near the 20°C isotherm and can be present across the equatorial basin. The EUC reappears during summer–fall of most years, with core depth located at different longitudes and depths. In the western basin, the EUC results primarily from equatorial Kelvin and Rossby waves directly forced by equatorial easterly winds. In the central and eastern basin, however, reflected Rossby waves from the eastern boundary play a crucial role. While the first two baroclinic modes make the largest contribution, intermediate modes 3–8 are also important. The summer–fall EUC tends to occur in the western basin but exhibits obvious interannual variability in the eastern basin. During positive Indian Ocean dipole (IOD) years, the eastern basin EUC results largely from Rossby waves reflected from the eastern boundary, with directly forced Kelvin and Rossby waves also having significant contributions. However, the eastern basin EUC disappears during negative IOD and normal years because westerly wind anomalies force a westward pressure gradient force and thus westward subsurface current, which cancels the eastward subsurface flow induced by eastern boundary–reflected Rossby waves. Interannual variability of zonal equatorial wind that drives the EUC variability is dominated by the zonal sea surface temperature (SST) gradients associated with IOD and is much less influenced by equatorial wind associated with Indian monsoon rainfall strength.

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