Articles | Volume 6, issue 4
Ocean Sci., 6, 997–1011, 2010
Ocean Sci., 6, 997–1011, 2010

  13 Dec 2010

13 Dec 2010

Retroflection from a double-slanted coastline: a model for the Agulhas leakage variability

V. Zharkov1, D. Nof1,2, and W. Weijer3 V. Zharkov et al.
  • 1Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Institute, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, 32306, USA
  • 2Department of Oceanography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, 32306, USA
  • 3New Mexico Consortium, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM 87545, USA

Abstract. The Agulhas leakage to the South Atlantic exhibits a strong anti-correlation with the mass flux of the Agulhas Current. When the Agulhas retroflection is in its normal position near Cape Agulhas, leakage is relatively high and the nearby South African coastal slant (angle of derivation from zonal) is very small and relatively invariant alongshore. During periods of strong incoming flux (low leakage), the retroflection shifts upstream to Port Elizabeth or East London, where the coastline shape has a "kink", i.e., the slant changes abruptly from small on the west side, to large (about 55°) on the east side. Here, we show that the variability of rings shedding and anti-correlation between Agulhas mass flux and leakage to the South Atlantic may be attributed to this kink.

To do so, we develop a nonlinear analytical model for retroflection near a coastline that consists of two sections, a zonal western section and a strongly slanted eastern section. The principal difference between this and the model of a straight slanted coast (discussed in our earlier papers) is that, here, free purely westward propagation of eddies along the zonal coastline section is allowed. This introduces an interesting situation in which strong slant of the coast east of the kink prohibits the formation and shedding of rings, while the almost zonal coastal orientation west of the kink encourages shedding. Therefore, the kink "locks" the position of the retroflection, forcing it to occur just downstream of the kink. Rings are necessarily shed from the retroflection area in our kinked model, regardless of the degree of eastern coast slant. In contrast, a no-kink model with a coastline of intermediate slant indicates that shedding is almost completely arrested by that slant.

We suggest that the observed difference in ring-shedding intensity during times of normal retroflection position and times when the retroflection is shifted eastward is due to the change in the retroflection location with respect to the kink. When the incoming flux detaches from the coast north of the kink, ring transport is small; when the flux detaches south of the kink, transport is large. Simple process-oriented numerical simulations are in fair agreement with our analytical results.