Ocean Dynamics

, Volume 60, Issue 4, pp 883–900 | Cite as

Variability in Solomon Sea circulation derived from altimeter sea level data

  • Angélique Melet
  • Lionel GourdeauEmail author
  • Jacques Verron


The Solomon Sea is a key region in the Pacific Ocean where equatorial and subtropical circulations are connected. The region exhibits the highest levels in sea level variability in the entire south tropical Pacific Ocean. Altimeter data was utilized to explore sea level and western boundary currents in this poorly understood portion of the ocean. Since the geography of the region is extremely intricate, with numerous islands and complex bathymetry, specifically reprocessed along-track data in addition to standard gridded data were utilized in this study. Sea level anomalies (SLA) in the Solomon Sea principally evolve at seasonal and interannual time scales. The annual cycle is phased by Rossby waves arriving in the Solomon Strait, whereas the interannual signature corresponds to the basin-scale ENSO mode. The highest SLA variability are concentrated in the eastern Solomon Sea, particularly at the mouth of the Solomon Strait, where they are associated with a high eddy kinetic energy signal that was particularly active during the phase transition during the 1997–1998 ENSO event. Track data appear especially helpful for documenting the fine structure of surface coastal currents. The annual variability of the boundary currents that emerged from altimetry compared quite well with the variability seen at the thermocline level, as based on numerical simulations. At interannual time scales, western boundary current transport anomalies counterbalance changes in western equatorial Pacific warm water volume, confirming the phasing of South Pacific western boundary currents to ENSO. Altimetry appears to be a valuable source of information for variability in low latitude western boundary currents and their associated transport in the South Pacific.


Southwest tropical Pacific Ocean Solomon Sea Altimetry Low latitude western boundary currents ENSO Annual cycle 



This work was supported by the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES). It is a contribution to the INSU/LEFE national programme and to the CLIVAR/SPICE International programme. Gridded altimeter products were produced by Ssalto/Duacs and distributed by AVISO, with support from Cnes ( The original T/P data were reprocessed at the Center for Topographic studies of the Oceans and Hydrosphere (CTOH/LEGOS, We thank Florence Birol for her help reprocessing the altimeter data, Billy Kessler, Sophie Cravatte, and Patrick Marchesiello for their helpful comments. WWV time series were obtained from the TAO Project Office at NOAA/PMEL (


  1. Alory G, Delcroix T (2002) Interannual sea level changes and associated mass transports in the tropical Pacific from TOPEX-Poseidon data and linear model results (1964-1999). J Geophys Res 107(C10):1999. doi: 10.1029/2001JC001067 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barnier B et al (2006) Impact of partial steps and momentum advection schemes in a global ocean circulation model at eddy-permitting resolution. Ocean Dyn 56(5–6):543–567. doi: 10.1007/s10236-006-0082-1 Google Scholar
  3. Butt J, Lindstrom E (1994) Currents off the east coast of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea, and their relevance to regional undercurrents in the western equatorial Pacific ocean. J Geophys Res 99(C6):12 503–12 514CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Carrere L, Lyard F (2003) Modeling the barotropic response of the global ocean to atmospheric wind and pressure forcing—comparisons with observations. Geophys Res Lett 30(6):1275. doi: 10.1029/2002GL016473 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chen S, Qiu B (2004) Seasonal variability of the South Equatorial Countercurrent. J Geophys Res 109:C08003. doi: 10.1029/2003JC002243 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Durand F, Shankar D, Birol F, Satheesh Chendra Shenoi S (2008) Estimating boundary currents from satellite altimetry: a case study for the east coast of India. J Oceanogr 64:831–845CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gourdeau L, Kessler WS, Davis RE, Sherman J, Maes C, Kestenare E (2008) Zonal jets entering the coral sea. J Phys Oceanogr 38:715–725CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gouriou Y, Toole J (1993) Mean circulation of the upper layers of the western equatorial Pacific ocean. J Geophys Res 98(22):495Google Scholar
  9. Ishida A, Hosoda S, Ando K (2008) North-south asymmetry of warm water volume transport related with El Nino variability. Geophys Res Letter 35:L18612. doi: 10.1029/2008GL034858 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Jin F (1997) An equatorial ocean recharge paradigm for ENSO, part I: conceptual model. J Atmos Sci 54:811–829CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kessler WS, Gourdeau L (2007) The annual cycle of circulation of the Southwest subtropical Pacific, analysed in an ocean GCM. J Phys Oceanogr 37:1610–1627CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kug JS, Kang IS, An SI (2003) Symmetric and antisymmetric mass exchanges between the equatorial and off-equatorial Pacific associated with ENSO. J Geophys Res 108(C8):3284CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kuroda Y (2000) Variability of currents off the northern coast of New Guinea. J Oceanogr 56:103–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Lee T, Fukumori I (2003) Interannual to decadal variation of tropical-subtropical exchange in the Pacific Ocean: boundary versus interior pycnocline transports. J Climate 16:4022–4042CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lindstrom E, Lukas R, Fine R, Firing E, Godgrey S, Meyers G, Tsuchiya M (1987) The western equatorial ocean circulation study. Nature 330:533–537CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lindstrom E, Butt J, Lukas R, Godfrey S (1990) The flow through Vitiaz strait and St Georges's channel, Papua New Guinea. In: Pratt LJ (ed) The physical oceanography of sea strait. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, pp 171–189Google Scholar
  17. Lübbecke JF, Böning CW, Biastoch A (2008) Variability in the subtropical-tropical cells and its effect on near-surface temperature of the equatorial Pacific: a model study. Ocean Sci 4:73–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Luo Y, Rothstein L, Zhang R, Busalacchi A (2005) On the connection between South Pacific subtropical spiciness anomalies and decadal equatorial variability in an ocean general circulation model. J Geophys Res 110(10):002CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lyard F, Lefevre F, Letellier T, Francis O (2006) Modelling the global ocean tides: modern insights from FES2004. Ocean Dyn 56:349–415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Maes et al. (2009) Rapport de la mission océanographique FLUSEC-01 à bord du N. O. Alis du 12 au 30 Août 2007 en mer de Corail, Océan Pacifique Sud-Ouest: IRD, (Sciences de la Mer. Oceanographie Physique. Rapports de Convention, N°24), 98 ppGoogle Scholar
  21. Meinen CS (2005) Meridional extent and interannual variability of the Pacific Ocean tropical-subtropical warm water exchange. J Phys Oceanogr 35(3):323–335CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Meinen CS, McPhaden MJ (2001) Interannual variability in warm water volume transports in the equatorial Pacific during 1993-1999. J Phys Oceanogr 31:1324–1345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Melet A, Gourdeau L, Kessler W, Verron J, Molines J (2010) Thermocline circulation in the Solomon Sea: a modeling study. J Phys Oceanogr 18pp (in press). doi: 10.1175/2009JPO4264.1
  24. Murray S, Lindstrom E, Kindle J, Weeks E (1995) Transport through Vitiaz Strait. WOCE notes, 7Google Scholar
  25. Pascual A, Faugère F, Larnicol G, Le Traon PY (2006) Improved description of the ocean mesoscale variability by combining four satellite altimeters. Geophys Res Let 33:L02611CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Qiu B, Chen S (2004) Seasonal modulations in the Eddy field of the South Pacific Ocean. J Phys Oceanogr 34:1515–1527CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Qu T, Lindstrom E (2002) A climatological interpretation of the circulation in the Western South Pacific. J Phys Oceanogr 32:2492–2508CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ridgway KR, Godfrey JS, Meyers G, Bailey R (1993) Sea level response to the 1986-1987 El Nino Southern Oscillation event in the Western Pacific in the vicinity of Papua New Guinea. J Geophys Res 98:16 387–16 395CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Roblou L, Lyard F, LeHenaff M, Maraldi C (2007) X-TRACK, a new processing tool for altimetry in coastal oceans. Envisat Symposium 2007, Montreux, Switzerland, ESA SP-636, July 2007Google Scholar
  30. Schneider N (2004) The response of the tropical climate to the equatorial emergence of spiciness anomalies. J Climate 17:1083–1095CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Tomczak M, Godfrey J (1993) Regional oceanography: an introduction. Pergamon Press, Great BritainGoogle Scholar
  32. Tsuchiya M, Lukas R, Fine R, Firing E, Lindstrom E (1989) Source waters of the Pacific Equatorial Undercurrent. Prog Oceanogr 23:101–147CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ueki I, Kashino Y, Kuroda Y (2003) Observation of current variations off the New Guinea coast including the 1997–1998 El Nino period and their relationship with Sverdrup transport. J Geophys Res 108(C7):36-1–36-17. doi: 10.1029/2002JC001611 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Vincent P, Steunou N, Caubet E, Phalippou L, Rey L, Thouvenot E, Verron J (2006) AltiKa: a Ka-band altimetry payload and system for operational altimetry during the GMES period. Sensors 6:208–234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Wunsch C, Stammer D (1995) The global frequency-wavenumber spectrum of oceanic variability estimated from TOPEX/POSEIDON altimetric measurements. J Geophys Res 100(C12):24,895–24,910CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Yeager SG, Large WG (2004) Late-winter generation of spiciness on subducted isopycnals. J Phys Oceanogr 34:1528–1545CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Angélique Melet
    • 1
  • Lionel Gourdeau
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jacques Verron
    • 1
  1. 1.LEGI, UMR 5519, CNRS & Grenoble UniversitésGrenobleFrance
  2. 2.UMR 5566, CNRS & IRD & Université Paul SabatierToulouseFrance

Personalised recommendations