Thermocline and intermediate water communication between the south Atlantic and Indian oceans


  • Arnold L. Gordon,

  • Ray F. Weiss,

  • William M. Smethie Jr.,

  • Mark J. Warner


A conductivity-temperature-depth and tracer chemistry section in the southeast South Atlantic in December 1989 and January 1990 presents strong evidence that there is a significant interocean exchange of thermocline and intermediate water between the South Atlantic and Indian oceans. Eastward flowing water at 10°W composed of South Atlantic Central (thermocline) Water is too enriched with chlorofluoromethanes 11 and 12 and oxygen to be the sole source of similar θ-S water within the northward flowing Benguela Current. About two thirds of the Benguela Current thermocline transport is drawn from the Indian Ocean; the rest is South Atlantic water that has folded into the Benguela Current in association with the Agulhas eddy-shedding process. South Atlantic Central water passes in the Indian Ocean by a route to the south of the Agulhas Return Current. The South Atlantic water loops back to the Atlantic within the Indian Ocean, perhaps mostly within the Agulhas recirculation cell of the southwest Indian Ocean. Linkage of Atlantic and Indian Ocean water diminishes with increasing depth; it extends through the lower thermocline into the Antarctic Intermediate Water (AAIW) (about 50% is derived from the Indian Ocean) but not into the deep water. While much of the interocean exchange remains on an approximate horizontal “isopycnal” plane, as much as 10 × 106 m3 s−1 of Indian Ocean water within the 25 × 106 m3 s−1 Benguela Current, mostly derived from the lower thermocline and AAIW, may balance deeper Atlantic export of North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW). The addition of salt water from the evaporative Indian Ocean into the South Atlantic Ocean thermocline and AAIW levels may precondition the Atlantic for NADW formation. While AAIW seems to be the chief feed for NADW, the bulk of it enters the subtropical South Atlantic, spiked with Indian Ocean salt, within the Benguela Current rather than along the western boundary of the South Atlantic.