Antarctic Circumpolar Current Transport Through Drake Passage: What Can We Learn From Comparing High-Resolution Model Results to Observations?

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Uncertainty exists in the time-mean total transport of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), the world's strongest ocean current. The two most recent observational programs in Drake Passage, DRAKE and cDrake, yielded transports of 141 and 173.3 Sv, respectively. In this paper, we use a realistic 1/12° global ocean simulation to interpret these observational estimates and reconcile their differences. We first show that the modeled ACC transport in the upper 1,000 m is in excellent agreement with repeat shipboard acoustic Doppler current profiler (SADCP) transects and that the exponentially decaying transport profile in the model is consistent with the profile derived from repeat hydrographic data. By further comparing the model results to the cDrake and DRAKE observations, we argue that the modeled 157.3 Sv transport, that is, approximately the average of the cDrake and DRAKE estimates, is actually representative of the time-mean ACC transport through the Drake Passage. The cDrake experiment overestimated the barotropic contribution in part because the array undersampled the deep recirculation southwest of the Shackleton Fracture Zone, whereas the surface geostrophic currents used in the DRAKE estimate yielded a weaker near-surface transport than implied by the SADCP data. We also find that the modeled baroclinic and barotropic transports are not correlated; thus, monitoring either baroclinic or barotropic transport alone may be insufficient to assess the temporal variability of the total ACC transport.

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Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans