South of Africa, the Agulhas Current retroflects and a portion of its waters flows into the South Atlantic Ocean(1), typically in the form of Agulhas rings(2). This flux of warm and salty water from the Indian to the Atlantic Ocean (the Agulhas leakage) is now recognized as a key element in global climate(3). An Agulhas leakage shutdown has been associated with extreme glacial periods(4), whereas a vigorous increase has preceded shifts towards interglacials(5). In the absence of a coherent observing system, studies of the Agulhas have relied heavily on ocean models, which have revealed a possible recent increase in Agulhas leakage(6-8). However, owing to the high levels of oceanic turbulence, model solutions of the region are highly sensitive to their numerical choices(9,10), stressing the need for observations to confirm these important model results. Here, using satellite altimetry observations from 1993 to 2009, we show that the mesoscale variability of the Agulhas system, in particular in the Mozambique Channel and south of Madagascar, has intensified. This seems to result from an increased South Equatorial Current driven by enhanced trade winds over the tropical Indian Ocean. Overall, the intensified mesoscale variability of the Agulhas system is reflected in accelerated eddy propagation, in its source regions as well as the retroflection from which eddies propagate into the South Atlantic Ocean. This suggests that the Agulhas leakage may have increased from 1993 to 2009, confirming previous modelling studies that have further implied an increased Agulhas leakage may compensate a deceleration of meridional overturning circulation associated with a freshening of the North Atlantic Ocean(6,11).
- Environmental Sciences
- Environmental Studies
- Meteorology & Atmospheric Sciences
[Backeberg, Bjoern C.; Rouault, Mathieu] Univ Cape Town, Nansen Tutu Ctr Marine Environm Res, ZA-7701 Cape Town, South Africa; [Backeberg, Bjoern C.; Penven, Pierrick; Rouault, Mathieu] Univ Cape Town, MA RE Inst, Dept Oceanog, ZA-7701 Cape Town, South Africa; [Penven, Pierrick] UBO, CNRS, IRD, IFREMER,UMR 6523,LMI ICEMASA,Lab Phys Oceans, F-29280 Plouzane, France
Backeberg, BC (reprint author), Univ Cape Town, Nansen Tutu Ctr Marine Environm Res, ZA-7701 Cape Town, South Africa.