Wind and current forcing combine to drive strong upwelling in the Agulhas Current

Greta M. Leber, Lisa M. Beal, Shane Elipot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Strong upwelling events inshore of the Agulhas Current close to 33.5°S are investigated. These events are important to the exchange of shelf and slope waters, potentially enhancing primary productivity and advecting larvae offshore. Using hydrographic observations, this study shows that a wind-driven upwelling event and a current-driven upwelling event can each advect central waters more than 130m upward, resulting in a maximum 9°C cooling at 50-m depth over the continental shelf and surface cooling greater than 4°C. The authors use satellite data to assess the frequency and forcing mechanisms of similar cold events from January 2003 through December 2011, defining cold events as days when the sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly is significantly correlated with a local current or wind forcing. The authors identify 47 events with an average length of 2.2 days and SST anomaly of -1.6°C, corresponding to an average 13 days of surface cold events along the Agulhas Current front per year. This study uses combined EOF analysis to characterize these cold events based on four highly correlated forcing mechanisms: alongshore wind speed, wind stress curl, current meandering, and current speed over the slope. The authors find that meanders act in combination with upwelling-favorable winds to force the strongest cold events, while upwelling-favorable winds alone, possibly primed by Ekman veering, force weaker cold events. Most significantly, it is found that the frontal curvature of warm Agulhas Current meanders couples with the atmosphere to drive local wind stress curl anomalies that reinforce upwelling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-134
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography


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