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of Ekman transport and resulting upwelling

Comparison of Southeastern Brazil Coast to Hainan Island

This project will discuss and compare the occurrence of upwelling in two
distinct coastal regions and how different physical processes contribute to this

1. Introduction and background definitions

Alongshore upwelling fronts are a commonly studied subject in oceanography
and can be observed in a large number of the worlds coastal oceans. The wind-
induced upwelling is the prevailing process but there are several other mechanisms
that can generate and influence upwelling near coastal regions such as bottom
bathymetry, instabilities in boundary currents, Coriolis effect, Ekman transport,
eddies, seasonal variations, among others. However, this project will present and
discuss only the influence of cyclonic meanders and topography (or bottom
bathymetry) in upwelling systems and, in this introduction, a simple definition of
both processes will be given.

A meander trough consists of a clockwise rotating dome of cold upwelled water,
which lies between a given boundary current and the continental slope. They tend
to be formed after spin off stronger currents, lasting for weeks to months. One
rotation typically takes place at every 10-30 days in a horizontal scale that ranges
from 10 to 100 km, often called meso-scale.

According to Gille et al. (2003), seafloor topography influences ocean circulation
and is relevant because it steers ocean flows, but also because it inhibits or
enhances the mixing and transport of waters from different regions. Most major
currents respond to sea floor topography and as an example of this we can mention
the following currents: Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC); the Gulf Stream and
the Kuroshio Extension all steer around ridges and seamounts.

a. Shelf break upwelling driven by Brazil Current cyclonic meanders

Knowing a little more about the definition of those two ocean variables we can
now introduce two case studies that seek to relate current meandering and
topographic effects with upwelling.

Campos et al., [2000] developed a numerical ocean model for a specific region of
the Brazilian coast that shows the occurrence of upwelling associated with cyclonic
meanders of the Brazil Current, in the region known as the Southeast Brazil Bight
(SBB) or Santos Bight. It also shows that, in the summer, the South Atlantic Central
Water (SACW) was detected in the SBB as close as 50 Km to the coast and that, in
the wintertime, the SACW retreats to near the shelf break, being detected only in the
middle and outer shelves (depths greater than 100m). The wind regime can be
designated as the controlling forcing for this seasonal behavior but it cannot explain
why the SACW is found in the outer regions of the shelf year round, since the

SACWs core is usually found at depths greater than 200m. Campos et al., [2000]
suggests that during the summer the mechanism responsible for pumping that
water onto the shelf could be a combination of shelf-break upwelling, induced by the
Brazil Current (BC) cyclonic meanders, and coastal wind-driven upwelling.

Figure 1. Horizontal distribution of temperature at 100m

depths. Notice the signature of a cyclonic meander in the
southeastern quadrant of the surveyed area.

By analyzing the horizontal distributions of temperature at a depth of 100m, the
presence of the leading part of cyclonic meanders can be determined. Vertical
sections of temperature and salinity indicate that the SACW was found climbing
the shelf. The fact that the SACW reached the shallower regions only in the summer
can be justified by additional action of the wind driven Ekman pumping,
schematically represented in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Schematic of the combined effect of coastal wind-driven and meander-induced upwelling. During the
summer, coastal upwelling occurs in response to the offshore Ekman transport near the surface (CW: Coastal Water;
SACW: South Atlantic Central Water; TW: Tropical Water).

b. Wind and topography influence on an upwelling system at the eastern

Hainan coast

The Hainan Island is located along the northern South China Sea (SCS) coast
where upwelling can be verified by measurements and also by satellite data. In
summer, under the southwesterly monsoon forcing, a northeastward current flows
along the Vietnam coast, the south and east coast of Hainan Island, and the northern
SCS coast, denoted as a western boundary current. Chu et al. [1999] calculated the
transport volume of this current to be 5.5 Sv. There are some studies concerning the
dynamics and inter-annual variability of upwelling near Hainan Island but they
dont assess or dont explain what is the mechanism controlling the structure of
patchiness and what is the role of topographic effects.

As an effort to further understand this process, Su, J., and T. Pohlmann (2009)
applied a baroclinic free surface model to an area of the island with dipole
structures (i.e., an upwelling center behind a cape while a downwelling center exists
in front of a cape looking in the direction of the flow). Whereas in the control run the
vertical velocity in shelf areas indicates the combination of upwelling and
downwelling centers around the capes, only upwelling centers were produced in the
experiment. This indicates that the capes distort the potential vorticity balance,
which leads to localized up- and downwelling patches.

When upwelling favorable winds are strong enough, a sea surface
temperature (SST) anomaly is formed at the downstream of the cape, causing an
upward lift of isopycnals toward the coast. The additional density induced pressure
gradient will result in further movement of the upwelling center. The existence of
several capes along such a short coastline is relatively exceptional, and thus the
resulting number of patches of up- and downwelling is the dominant feature in
these areas. So the main dynamics around these capes are topographically steered.

Su, J., and T. Pohlmann (2009) affirm that this finding could be extended to other
coastal areas that have similar complex coastline. This can be confirmed by the work
of Tony et al. (2001), which relates three observed recurrent upwelling centers off
the New Jersey coast with consistent solutions of their oceanic model and three
topographic heights at the locations of Barnegat Inlet, the Mullica River estuary, and
Townsend Hereford Inlet, respectively (Figure 3). Their research also shows that
the existence of a topographic perturbation component in the upwelling solution of
their theoretical model indicates that the alongshore topography plays an important
role in controlling the formation of upwelling centers as it enhances upwelling at
some locations and induces downwelling at others.

Figure 3. Tony et al.s (2001) satellite image of upwelling events along the southern New Jersey
coast. The image indicates the upwelled surface water has converged into a series three cold
patches. CTD transects through the Mullica upwelling center are show in the figure.

2. Discussion

It is very important to consider the implications behind a comparison between

different ocean processes happening in distinct regions, under various
circumstances and timelines. To a certain extent currents and winds formed in one
side of the planet can generate upwelling in the other side and have a significant
impact on the circulation at different latitudes and longitudes. However, when we
focus on smaller scales or specific systems, each measured property and confirmed
process is a result of the combination of each forcing - that is also valid for global
circulation - consequently, topographic and meandering effects will be better
understood if analyzed as part of the equation that governs ocean and atmosphere
circulation, not as a separate process. As a result of various oceanographic studies
and researches it is widely known that the major forcing responsible for coastal
upwelling is the Ekman transport and that other processes play a secondary role on
generating upwelling phenomena, nonetheless, by carefully considering the effects
of seafloor topography and current meandering, among other, we can have a more
thoroughly answer for the unanswered questions that Ekman transport alone
cannot answer.

Finally it can be concluded that the Brazil Current cyclonic meandering inside
the SBB causes the presence of the SACW on the outer regions of the continental
shelf. Thus, the mechanism responsible for pumping the SACW onto the shelf was
mainly due to meander induced shelf break upwelling, during the winter, and a
combination of shelf break and wind-driven upwelling in the summertime.

Highlighting topographic and cyclonic meander influence is not contradictory to
the classical understanding of Ekman upwelling. The classic Ekman theory considers
only large-scale processes, whereas in a narrow upwelling system the topography
and current meandering can also play an important role. These smaller-scale
processes might have a profound impact on the biology, chemistry and geology at
similar scales.

3. Summary Table

The following table is a summary of the comparison between the Hainan Island
and the Southeast Brazil Bight, containing the processes that better describe the
physical environment in a concise way.

4. References

Anne F. Sell (2002), An Introduction: Impact on Marine Food Chains, University of

Chai, F., H. Xue, and M. Shi (2001), Upwelling east of Hainan Island, Oceanogr. China,
13, 129137.

Edmo J. D. Campos, Denise Velhote and Ilson C.A. Silveira
Geophysical research letters, vol. 27, no. 6, pages 751-754, march 15, 2000

Gille et al. (2003) Seafloor Topography and Ocean Circulation, Oceanography,
Volume 17, Number 1.

Guo, F., M. C. Shi, and Z. W. Xia (1998), Two-dimensional diagnose model to calculate
upwelling on offshore of the east coast of hainan island, Acta Oceanol. Sinica, 20(6),

Hu, J. Y., H. Kawamura, and D. L. Tang (2003), Tidal front around the Hainan Island,
northwest of the South China Sea, J. Geophys. Res., 108(C12), 3342,

Sergio R. Signorini (1977), On the circulation and the volume transport of the Brazil
Current between the Cape of So Tom and Guanabara Bay

Su, J., and T. Pohlmann (2009), Wind and topography influence on an upwelling
system at the eastern Hainan coast, J. Geophys. Res., 114, C06017,

Chu, P. C., N. L. Edmons, and C. Fan (1999), Dynamical mechanisms for the South
China Sea seasonal circulation and thermohaline variabilities, J. Phys. Oceanogr.,
29(11), 29712989.