Interannual Sea Level Variations in the South Pacific from 5° to 28°S
Journal of Physical Oceanography
Ocean Topography Experiment (TOPEX)/Poseidon/Jason-1 satellite altimeter observations for the 11-yr period from January 1993 to December 2003 show that in the South Pacific Ocean most of the interannual sea level variability in the region 5°-28°S is west of 160°W. This interannual variability is largest from about 5°to 15°S and from 155°E to 160°W, reaching a root-mean-square value of over 11 cm. Calculations show that this interannual sea level signal can be described by first and second
... st and second baroclinic vertical mode Rossby waves forced by the curl of the interannual Ekman transport. This curl, which tends to be positive during El Niño and negative during La Niña, generates positive (negative) sea level anomalies during El Niño (La Niña) that increase westward in amplitude in accordance with Rossby wave dynamics. The sea level anomalies are not exactly in phase with the curl forcing because Sverdrup balance does not hold-vortex stretching also contributes to the response. East of 160°W is a large "quiet" region of low interannual sea level variability, especially south of about 15°S. This is surprising because there is no flow into the coast, so the interannual sea level amplitude of equatorial origin should be constant along the coast, resulting in a source of westward-propagating Rossby waves of considerable amplitude. The large low-variability region results because coastal sea level amplitude falls between 5°and 15°S, so the Rossby wave source south of 15°S is weak. During El Niño the sea level is higher than normal at the coast, so the southward fall in anomalous sea level implies, by geostrophy, that there is an anomalous onshore flow. This flow feeds an anomalous southward El Niño current of up to 20 cm s Ϫ1 above the 30-50-km-wide shelf edge. During La Niña the sea level is lower than normal at the coast and the flows reverse: a narrow anomalously northward shelf-edge flow feeding a broad offshore flow between 5°and 15°S. South of 16°S the coastal flow is much weaker.