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Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans

Structure and surface properties of eddies in the southeast Pacific Ocean


Corresponding author: J. Holte, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, 266 Woods Hole Rd MS #21, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA. (


[1] A number of studies have posited that coastally generated eddies could cool the southeast Pacific Ocean (SEP) by advecting cool, upwelled waters offshore. We examine this mechanism by characterizing the upper-ocean properties of mesoscale eddies in the SEP with a variety of observations and by estimating the surface-layer eddy heat flux divergence with satellite data. Cyclonic and anticyclonic eddies observed during two cruises featured deep positive salinity anomalies along the 26.5 kg m−3isopycnal, indicating that the eddies had likely trapped and transported coastal waters offshore. The cyclonic eddies observed during the cruises were characterized by shoaling isopycnals in the upper 200 m and cool near-surface temperature anomalies, whereas the upper-ocean structure of anticyclonic eddies was more variable. Using a variety of large-scale observations, including Argo float profiles, drifter records, and satellite sea surface temperature fields, we show that, relative to mean conditions, cyclonic eddies are associated with cooler surface temperatures and that anticyclonic eddies are associated with warmer surface temperatures. Within each data set, the mean eddy surface temperature anomalies are small and of approximately equal magnitude but opposite sign. Eddy statistics drawn from satellite altimetry data reveal that cyclonic and anticyclonic eddies occur with similar frequency and have similar average radii in the SEP. A satellite-based estimate of the surface-layer eddy heat flux divergence, while large in coastal regions, is small when averaged over the SEP, suggesting that eddies do not substantially contribute to cooling the surface layer of the SEP.

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