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Mean circulation of the Indonesian throughflow and a mechanism of its partitioning between outflow passages : a regional model study


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Berger, AP ORCID: 0000-0002-9037-9354 2020 , 'Mean circulation of the Indonesian throughflow and a mechanism of its partitioning between outflow passages : a regional model study', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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The Indonesian Throughflow (ITF) is the only low latitude connection of the global circulation and is an essential pathway for mass, heat and salt exchange between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The ITF is a boundary current constrained by topography and is characterised by two source pathways, a western and an eastern. At the exit to the Indian Ocean, observations show the ITF partitions amongst the three major outflow straits. The westernmost, Lombok Strait, has the lowest transport even though it is expected to carry most of the flow given that the ITF is a boundary current and this strait is a direct continuation of the western pathway. Heat and saltwater transports are different in each outflow strait and thus exchanged properties depend on the partitioning, consequently affecting the contribution to the Indian Ocean. In this study, we explore the ITF circulation and local dynamics that control the ITF partitioning.
To explore what controls ITF partitioning in the context of western boundary current theories, we simulate a steady ITF in a high-resolution (4-km) regional model. The forcing consists of time-averaged velocity, temperature and salinity fields from the global model Ocean Forecasting Australia Model v3 (OFAM3). We investigate what sets the amount of western pathway water that exits via Lombok Strait in the regional model. Our reference simulation confirms the two ITF pathways and gives a mean ITF of 14.1 Sv and an outflow partitioning of 0.2:0.4:0.4 (Lombok:Ombai:Timor), consistent with observations. Focusing on the western pathway, comprising 70% of the total ITF, we investigate the routes this water follows to the Indian Ocean. Here we consider partitioning as the ratio between transport in Lombok and Makassar Straits. Relative to only Makassar Strait transport, Lombok Strait still has the lowest transport portion of the three outflows (27%). Idealised perturbation experiments help us to investigate boundary current dynamics; combinations of slip/non-slip boundary conditions and linear/non-linear advection in the momentum equations illustrate the effects of current width (CW) on partitioning. Our key finding from this analysis is that the CW in the Makassar Strait controls the Lombok Strait transport; a narrower boundary current can fit more flow through a narrow strait. To understand what sets the CW, we perform a vorticity budget. The reference simulation reveals that the leading order term that balances change in planetary vorticity is advection of vorticity. The vorticity term diagnostics for the perturbation experiments suggest non-linearity is the main term controlling the ITF current width.
We test how CW influences partitioning in more realistic conditions and evaluate how low-frequency variability affects partitioning, analysing 18-yr of a global fully-realistic model OFAM3. Consistent with our perturbation experiments, we find CW in Makassar Strait controls transport in Lombok Strait. Further, we find that, on the inter-annual scale, the Makassar Strait CW is approximately constant. This suggests that Makassar Strait may be saturated and similar dynamics could also take place upstream in the ITF western pathway. Specifically, we find that the width of Makassar Strait constrains the CW, independent of variations in CW at the upstream inflow ITF at Mindanao boundary current. As a consequence, during years when Mindanao current is wide at the Indonesian Seas entrance, the flow does not entirely fit in Makassar Strait. This flow that did not fit in Makassar Strait joins the eastern pathway. The increase of inflow in the eastern pathway produces a change in transport at Timor Passage, providing a link between variability at Timor Passage and that of the Mindanao.
Our results suggest that, given the ITF complexity, the simple concept of partitioning cannot be easily used as a proxy for ITF transports and predictions cannot be made based on single strait measurements. The ITF western pathway provides a more direct connection to the Indian Ocean compared to the eastern pathway. The changes eastern pathway waters undergo while circulating in the Indonesian Seas are crucial for understanding heat and tracers exchange between the two oceans. Finally, understanding what controls the ITF circulation and its variability is critical to better predicting how the ITF responds to climate change.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Berger, AP
Keywords: Indonesian Throughflow partitioning; High-resolution regional modelling; Western Boundary Current; Current width; Vorticity Budget
DOI / ID Number: 10.25959/100.00034790
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Copyright 2019 the author

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