• currents;
  • stability

[1] The origin of the eddy variability around the 25°S band in the Indian Ocean is investigated. We have found that the surface circulation east of Madagascar shows an anticyclonic subgyre bounded to the south by eastward flow from southwest Madagascar, and to the north by the westward flowing South Equatorial Current (SEC) between 15° and 20°S. The shallow, eastward flowing South Indian Ocean Countercurrent (SICC) extends above the deep reaching, westward flowing SEC to 95°E around the latitude of the high variability band. Applying a two-layer model reveals that regions of large vertical shear along the SICC-SEC system are baroclinically unstable. Estimates of the frequencies (3.5–6 times/year) and wavelengths (290–470 km) of the unstable modes are close to observations of the mesoscale variability derived from altimetry data. It is likely then that Rossby wave variability locally generated in the subtropical South Indian Ocean by baroclinic instability is the origin of the eddy variability around 25°S as seen, for example, in satellite altimetry.