Circulation in Drake Passage revisited using new current time series and satellite altimetry: 1. The Yaghan Basin


Corresponding author: R. Ferrari, LOCEAN, UMR 7159, CNRS/UPMC/MNHN/IRD, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, T. 45/46 5e étage, 4, place Jussieu, FR-75252 Paris CEDEX 05, France. (


[1] The complex bathymetry of the Drake Passage and the meridional extent of the Shackleton Fracture Zone, in particular, force the Subantarctic Front (SAF) and the Polar Front (PF) to veer to the north, and the flow of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current concentrates in the Yaghan Basin. We have studied the circulation in the Yaghan Basin, using 3 years of velocity data (January 2006–March 2009) at five mooring sites and 18 years of satellite altimetry data. Mean velocities at our mooring sites show a dominant eastward component which decreases with depth, as expected, with a notable exception in the center of the Yaghan Basin, where mean velocities reveal a dominant westward component increasing with depth. The mooring data suggest the existence of a permanent, strong deep cyclonic circulation over the Yaghan seafloor depression in the northeastern part of the Yaghan Basin. The in situ data provide the first opportunity to compare altimetry-derived velocities with high temporal resolution near-surface current meter velocities in a large eddy kinetic energy environment at high latitudes. Globally, altimetry-derived velocities compare rather well with the in situ velocities at 500 m depth both in strength and direction. Correlations are high between the in situ velocities and the surface velocities derived from satellite altimetric data. Mean sea level estimates lead to reasonable mean surface velocities with, however, a slight underestimation of the mean velocity at the mean location of the SAF on the continental slope and a more important underestimation of the westward current in the center of the Yaghan Basin. A dominant mode of velocity variations (23% of the variance) is observed both in the in situ and satellite data, corresponding to a strong southward meander of the SAF upstream of the mooring line and a northward meander of the PF downstream of the latter. The 18 yearlong altimetry time series shows that the mode is robust and has a strong semiannual component.