Marine Science Faculty Publications


Patterns of Upper Layer Circulation Variability in the South China Sea from Satellite Altimetry Using the Self-Organizing Map

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annual cycle, circulation patterns, inter-annual variation, satellite altimetry, self-organizing map, south china sea


Patterns of the South China Sea (SCS) circulation variability are extracted from merged satellite altimetry data from October 1992 through August 2004 by using the self-organizing map (SOM). The annual cycle, seasonal and inter-annual variations of the SCS surface circulation are identified through the evolution of the characteristic circulation patterns. The annual cycle of the SCS general circulation patterns is described as a change between two opposite basin-scale SW-NE oriented gyres embedded with eddies: low sea surface height anomaly (SSHA) (cyclonic) in winter and high SSHA (anticyclonic) in summer half year. The transition starts from July - August (January - February) with a high (low) SSHA tongue east of Vietnam around 12°-14° N, which develops into a big anticyclonic (cyclonic) gyre while moving eastward to the deep basin. During the transitions, a dipole structure, cyclonic (anticyclonic) in the north and anticyclonic (cyclonic) in the south, may be formed southeast off Vietnam with a strong zonal jet around 10° - 12° N. The seasonal variation is modulated by the interannual-variations. Besides the strong 1997/1998 event in response to the peak Pacific El Niño in 1997, the overall SCS sea level is found to have a significant rise during 1999-2001, however, in summer 2004 the overall SCS sea level is lower and the basin-wide anticyclonic gyre becomes weaker than the other years.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Acta Oceanologica Sinica, v. 27, Suppl., p. 129-144