University Of Tasmania

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Decadal changes in the South Pacific western boundary current system revealed in observations and ocean state estimates

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-17, 12:07 authored by Hill, KL, Stephen Rintoul, Ridgway, KR, Oke, PR
Observations and ocean state estimates are used to investigate the nature and mechanism of decadal variability in the East Australian Current (EAC) system and South Pacific subtropical gyre. A 62 year record on the Tasmanian continental shelf shows decadal variations of temperature and salinity, as well as a long-term trend, which has been related to wind-driven variations in the poleward extension of the EAC. Repeat expendable bathythermograph lines spanning the last 15 years suggest that low-frequency variations in the transport of the EAC extension and Tasman Front are anticorrelated, but the time series are too short to draw firm conclusions. Here we use two ocean state estimates spanning the past 50 years to diagnose the physical mechanisms and spatial structure of the decadal variability of the South Pacific subtropical gyre. The observations and state estimates paint a consistent picture of the decadal variability of the gyre and EAC system. Strengthening of the basin-wide wind stress curl drives a southward expansion of the subtropical gyre. As the gyre shifts south, the EAC extension pathway is favored at the expense of the Tasman Front, resulting in the observed anticorrelation of the these two major currents. The results suggest that the subtropical gyre and western boundary current respond to decadal variability in basin-scale wind stress curl, consistent with Island Rule dynamics; that strong decadal variability of the South Pacific gyre complicates efforts to infer trends from short-term records; and that wind stress curl changes over the South Pacific basin drive changes in the EAC system that are likely to have implications for marine ecosystems and regional climate.


Publication title

Journal of Geophysical Research





Article number









Integrated Marine Observing System


American Geophysical Union

Place of publication

2000 Florida Ave NW, Washington, USA, DC, 20009

Rights statement

Copyright 2011 American Geophysical Union

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Measurement and assessment of marine water quality and condition

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