Hydrography and circulation in the western Bay of Bengal during the northeast monsoon


  • S. R. Shetye,

  • A. D. Gouveia,

  • D. Shankar,

  • S. S. C. Shenoi,

  • P. N. Vinayachandran,

  • D. Sundar,

  • G. S. Michael,

  • G. Nampoothiri


The Bay of Bengal, a semienclosed tropical basin that comes under the influence of monsoonal wind and freshwater influx, is distinguished by a strongly stratified surface layer and a seasonally reversing circulation. We discuss characteristics of these features in the western Bay during the northeast monsoon, when the East India Coastal Current (EICC) flows southward, using hydrographic data collected during December 1991. Vertical profiles show uniform temperature and salinity in a homogeneous surface layer, on average, 25 m deep but shallower northward and coastward. The halocline, immediately below, is approximately 50 m thick; salinity changes by approximately 3 parts per thousand. About two thirds of the profiles show temperature inversions in this layer. Salinity below the halocline hardly changes, and stratification is predominantly due to temperature variation. The halocline is noticeably better developed and the surface homogeneous layer is thinner in a low-salinity plume that hugs the coastline along the entire east coast of India. The plume is, on average, 50 km wide, with isohalines sloping down toward the coast. Most prominent in the geostrophic velocity field is the equatorward EICC. Its transport north of about 13° N, computed with 1000 dbar as the level of reference, varies between 2.6 and 7.1 × 106 m3 s−1; just south of this latitude, a northwestward flow from offshore recurves and merges with the coastal current. At the southern end of the region surveyed, the transport is 7.7 × 106 m3 s−1. Recent model studies lead us to conclude that the EICC during the northeast monsoon is driven by winds along the east coast of India and Ekman pumping in the interior bay. In the south, Ekman pumping over the southwestern bay is responsible for the northwestward flow that merges with the EICC.