National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 1989

Currents off southeastern Australia: Results from the Australian Coastal Experiment

Huyer, A., R.L. Smith, P.J. Stabeno, J.A. Church, and N.J. White

Aust. J. Mar. Freshw. Res., 39, 245–288, doi: 10.1071/MF9880245 (1989)

The Australian Coastal Experiment was conducted off the east coast of New South Wales between September 1983 and March 1984. The experiment was conducted with arrays of current meters spanning the continental margin at three latitudes (37.5°, 34.5°, and 33.0°S), additional shelf moorings at 29° and 42°S, coastal wind and sea-level measurements, monthly conductivity-temperature-depth probe/expendable bathythermograph (CTD/XBT) surveys, and two satellite-tracked buoys. Over the continental shelf and slope, the alongshore component of the current generally exceeded the onshore component, and the subtidal (<0.6 cpd, cycles per day) current variability greatly exceeded the mean flow. Part of the current variability was associated with two separate warm-core eddies that approached the coast, causing strong (>50 cm sec−1), persistent (>8 days), southward currents over the continental slope and outer shelf. Temperature and geostrophic velocity sections through the eddies, maps of ship's drift vectors and temperature contours at 250 m, and the satellite-tracked drifter trajectories showed that these eddies were similar in structure to those observed previously in the East Australian Current region. Both eddies migrated generally southward. Eddy currents over the shelf and slope were rare at Cape Howe (37.5°S), more common near Sydney (34.5°S), and frequent at Newcastle (33.0°S), where strong northward currents were also observed. Near Sydney, the eddy currents over the slope turned clockwise with depth between 280 and 740 m, suggesting net downwelling there. Repeated CTD sections also indicated onshore transport and downwelling at shallower levels; presumably, upwelling occurred farther south where the eddy currents turned offshore. Periodic rotary currents over the continental slope near Sydney and Newcastle indicated the presence of small cyclonic eddies on the flank of a much larger anticyclonic eddy. Between early October and late January, no strong southward currents were observed over the continental margin near Sydney. Data from this "eddy-free" period were analyzed further to examine the structure and variability of the coastal currents. Much of this variability was correlated with fluctuations in coastal sea-level (at zero lag) and with the wind stress (at various lags). The coherence and phase relationships among current, wind-stress, and sea-level records at different latitudes (determined from spectral analysis and frequency-domain empirical orthogonal functions) were consistent with the equatorward propagation of coastal-trapped waves generated by winds in phase with those near Cape Howe. Time-domain empirical orthogonal functions show that the current fluctuations decayed with distance from shore and with depth, as expected of coastal-trapped waves.

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