Ocean/atmosphere heat fluxes within the Agulhas Retroflection region


  • Nan D. Walker,

  • Rosemary D. Mey


The southern section of the Agulhas western boundary current system exhibits unique characteristics as regards ocean/atmosphere heat flux processes. The Agulhas Retroflection region's high heat flux core from 37°S to 41°S, 16°E to 22°E does not demonstrate a distinct annual cycle of turbulent heat fluxes (latent and sensible) as is characteristic of its northern hemisphere counterparts. Rather, a weak semiannual heat flux cycle is found with maximum average losses during winter and summer (200 and 211 W/m2 ) and minimum losses during spring and autumn (185 and 162 W/m2 ). Upstream where the Agulhas Current is closer to land, winter heat losses exceed those of summer, but the differences are small. This behavior contrasts with that encountered at the poleward ends of northern hemisphere western boundary currents where winter heat fluxes are several times those of summer. The main reason for this difference is persistent westerly and southwesterly wind flow over the Agulhas Retroflection region throughout the year which ensures that cold, unsaturated maritime air repeatedly forces loss of heat from the ocean's surface. Spatial heat flux gradients associated with the Agulhas-Subtropical Convergence surface temperature front are more pronounced in summer than in winter, indicating that cyclogenesis locally may be less seasonally dependent than in the northern hemisphere situation. Average oceanic cooling rates in the core region of the Retroflection, based on net heat flux calculations and a mixed surface layer of 75 m, range from 1.35°C/month during winter to 0.25°C/month during summer. Interannual variability in ocean/atmosphere heat fluxes within the Agulhas Retroflection region often exceeds the variability illustrated by the annual cycle. West of the Agulhas Retroflection core region, interannual sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies are more influential in the generation of heat flux anomalies by virtue of their large temporal variability. This high SST variability is primarily attributed to interannual changes in flux of Agulhas Current water into the southeast Atlantic Ocean. Oceanic heat loss within this warm water zone is an important modifying influence to both ocean and atmosphere, thus meriting further research.