National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2018

The shallow overturning circulation in the Indian Ocean

Nagura, M., and M.J. McPhaden

J. Phys. Oceanogr., 48(2), 413–434, doi: 10.1175/JPO-D-17-0127.1 (2018)

The number of in situ observations in the Indian Ocean has dramatically increased over the past 15 years thanks to the implementation of the Argo profiling float program. This study estimates the mean circulation in the Indian Ocean using hydrographic observations obtained from both Argo and conductivity–temperature–depth (CTD) observations. Absolute velocity at the Argo float parking depth is used so there is no need to assume a level of no motion. Results reveal previously unknown features in addition to well-known currents and water masses. Some newly identified features include the lack of an interior pathway to the equator from the southern Indian Ocean in the pycnocline, indicating that water parcels must transit through the western boundary to reach the equator. High potential vorticity (PV) intrudes from the western coast of Australia in the depth range of the Subantarctic Mode Water, which leads to a structure similar to a PV barrier. The subtropical anticyclonic gyre retreats poleward with depth, as happens in the subtropical Atlantic and Pacific. An eastward flow was found in the eastern basin along 15°S at the depth of the Antarctic Intermediate Water—a feature expected from property distributions but never before detected in velocity estimates. Meridional mass transport indicates about 10 Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s-1) southward flow at 6°S and 18 Sv northward flow at 20°S, which results in meridional convergence of currents and thermocline depression at about 16°–20°S. These estimated absolute velocities agree well with those of an ocean reanalysis, which lends credibility to the strictly databased analysis.

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