The 5500-km-long boundary flow off western and southern Australia



[1] The path of the shelf edge flow off southwestern Australia is documented using results from satellite altimetry and sea surface temperature (SST) and a climatogical in situ analysis. During Austral winter a continuous current is shown to extend from its origin at North West Cape to the southern tip of Tasmania, a distance of 5500 km. Satellite SST observations and surface buoy tracks confirm the location and continuity of the current trajectory. While the Leeuwin Current is forced by the strong alongshore pressure gradient associated with the meridional portion of the western Australian coastal boundary, our results suggest that the essentially zonal shelf edge flow along the southern Australian coast arises from the setup of coastal sea level by onshore Ekman flow driven by the winter westerly wind and possibly a further alongshore pressure gradient. The timing of these two different forcing mechanisms means that the west coast pressure gradient delivers the Leeuwin Current to the south coast just as the winds reverse and are thus able to maintain the eastward passage of the current. The shelf edge flow consists of two main water masses. A low-salinity, warm water type of tropical origin associated with the Leeuwin Current and a high-salinity, warm water inflow formed on the western end of the Great Australian Bight continental shelf. A naming convention is proposed, the Leeuwin Current representing flow from North West Cape to the Great Australian Bight (GAB); the South Australian Current, between the eastern GAB and western Bass Strait; and the Zeehan Current off western Tasmania.