Splitting of the subtropical gyre in the western North Pacific

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Abstract

Examined here is a hypothetical idea of the splitting of the subtropical gyre in the western North Pacific on the basis of two independent sources of data,i.e., the long-term mean geopotential-anomaly data compiled by the Japanese Oceanographic Data Center and the synoptic hydrographic (STD) data taken by the Hakuho Maru in the source region of the Kuroshio and the Subtropical Countercurrent in the period February and March 1974. Both of the synoptic and the long-term mean dynamic-topographic maps reveal three major ridges, which indicate that the western subtropical gyre is split into three subgyres. Each subgyre is made up of the pair of currents, the Kuroshio and the Kuroshio Countercurrent, the Subtropical Countercurrent and a westward flow lying just south of the Countercurrent (18°N–21°N), and the northern part of the North Fquatorial Current and an eastward flow at around 18°N. The subgyres are more or less composed of a train of anticyclonic eddies with meridional scales of between 300 and 600 km, so that the volume transport of the subgyres varies by a factor of two or more from section to section. The upper-water characteristics also support the splitting of the subtropical gyre; the water characteristics are fairly uniform within each subgyre, but markedly different between them. The northern rim of each subgyre appears as a sharp density front accompanied by an eastward flow. The bifurcations of the sharp density fronts across the western boundary current indicate that the major part of the surface waters in the North Equatorial Countercurrent is not brought into the Kuroshio. The western boundary current appears as a continuous feature of high speed, but the waters transported change discontinuously at some places.