The Cape Cauldron: A regime of turbulent inter-ocean exchange

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Combining in-situ Lagrangian intermediate depth velocity measurements from the KAPEX (Cape of Good Hope Experiments) float program with sea-surface height data, this study reviews the inter-ocean exchange mechanisms around southern Africa. In the southeastern Cape Basin, a highly energetic field of coexisting anticyclonic and cyclonic eddies is documented. Agulhas Rings of typically 200 km diameter are observed to merge, split, deform, and to reconnect to the Agulhas Retroflection. Concomitant, slightly smaller cyclones are observed to drift across the northwestward migration path of the Agulhas Rings. These cyclones, with typical diameters of 120 km, are formed within the Cape Basin along the African shelf, inshore of the Agulhas Current, and in the subantarctic region south of Africa. The data suggest the annual formation of 3-6 long-lived Agulhas Rings that eventually cross 5°E longitude, while approximately twice the number of rings occur in the southeastern Cape Basin. Within this region, cyclones outnumber anticyclones by a factor of 3:2. Both cyclones and anticyclones extend through the upper thermocline into the intermediate depth layer. Mean drifts of anticyclones are 3.8±1.2 cm s-1 to the northwest, while cyclones follow a west-southwestward route at 3.6±0.8 cm s-1. Transport estimates suggest that the intermediate depth layer in the southeastern Cape Basin is primarily supplied from the east (approximately 9 Sv), with minor direct inflow from the Atlantic to the west and south. Cyclone/anticyclone interaction is surmised to result in vigorous stirring and mixing processes in the southeastern Cape Basin, which necessitates a review of the traditional concept of Indo-Atlantic inter-ocean exchange. We propose to limit the concept of "isolated Agulhas Rings embedded in a sluggish Benguela Drift" to the northwestern Cape Basin and beyond, while linking this regime to the Agulhas Retroflection proper through a zone of turbulent stirring and mixing in the southeastern Cape Basin, named for the first time the "Cape Cauldron" hereinafter. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Deep-Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography