Translation, decay and splitting of Agulhas rings in the southeastern Atlantic Ocean


  • Mathijs W. Schonten,

  • Will P. M. de Ruijter,

  • Peter Jan van Leeuwen,

  • Johann R. E. Lutjeharms


All Agulhas rings that were spawned at the Agulhas retroflection between 1993 and 1996 (a total of 21 rings) have been monitored using TOPEX/Poseidon satellite altimetry and followed as they moved through the southeastern Atlantic Ocean, decayed, interacted with bottom topography and each other, or dissipated completely. Rings preferentially crossed the Walvis Ridge at its deepest parts. After having crossed this ridge they have lower translational speeds, and their decay rate decreases markedly. Half the decay of long-lived rings takes place in the first 5 months of their lifetimes. In addition to the strong decay of rings in the Cape Basin, about one third of the observed rings do not seem to leave this region at all but totally disintegrate here. The interaction of rings with bottom topography, in particular with the Vema Seamount, is shown frequently to cause splitting of rings. This will enhance mixing of the rings' Indian Ocean water into that of the southern Atlantic. This localized mixing may well provide a considerable source of warm and salty Indian Ocean water into the Atlantic overturning circulation.