National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2023

Intensification and dynamics of the westward Equatorial Undercurrent during the summers of 1998 and 2016 in the Indian Ocean

Huang, K., D. Wang, G. Chen, M. Nagura, W. Han, M.J. McPhaden, M. Feng, J. Chen, Y. Wu, X. Zhang, Y. Li, Q. Xie, W. Wang, and F. Zhou

Geophys. Res. Lett., 49(20), e2022GL100168, doi: 10.1029/2022GL100168, View article at AGU (external link) (2022)

Using mooring observations and reanalysis, we show that anomalously strong westward Equatorial Undercurrent (wEUC) developed in June–July in 2016 and 1998 in the Indian Ocean, which coincided with extreme Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) and El Niño events. Simulations show that equatorial Kelvin and Rossby waves were excited by winds associated with El Niño and positive IOD events during 2015 and 1997, and their negative phases during 2016 and 1998. The constructive relationship between the delayed-time contributions of eastern-boundary-reflected-waves that excited by the easterlies in 2015 and 1997 and the direct contributions of wind-forced-waves that excited by the westerlies in 2016 and 1998 resulted in the intensified wEUC. Slow intermediate-order baroclinic-modes, rather than fast low-order baroclinic-modes, dominated the strong wEUC. The eastern-boundary-reflected-waves dominated in 1997–1998 and directly wind-forced-waves dominated in 2015–2016. Our results emphasize the importance of constructive interactions of the directly-wind-forced and boundary-reflected waves in driving the interannual variability of Indian Ocean wEUC.

Plain Language Summary. This study investigated the unique westward Equatorial Undercurrent (wEUC) and its associated dynamics in the Indian Ocean. Mooring observations at (80°E, 2.5°N) reveal the occurrence of an anomalously strong wEUC between 100 and 200 m depth in June-July (JJ) 2016. Simulations show that the constructive relationship between the directly forced and boundary-reflected waves resulted in the unprecedentedly strong wEUC in JJ 2016. Equatorial Kelvin and Rossby waves were excited by winds associated with El Niño and a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) during 2015, and their negative phases during 2016. Waves excited in 2015 hit the meridional boundary, and boundary-generated waves propagated into the interior Indian Ocean in 2016, which were superposed onto the directly forced waves. A similar wave-induced enhanced wEUC also occurred during the 1997–1998 strong El Niño and IOD events but with the dominant contribution coming from the eastern-boundary-reflected waves.

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