Temporal and spatial evolution of a deep-reaching anticyclonic eddy in the South China Sea

  • Meng Wang
  • Yanwei ZhangEmail author
  • Zhifei Liu
  • Yulong Zhao
  • Jianru Li
Research Paper


The temporal and spatial evolution of a deep-reaching anticyclonic eddy (AE) is studied using a combination of satellite measurements, moored observations and ocean model reanalysis data in the South China Sea (SCS). Three evolutionary stages in eddy’s lifecycle are identified from changes in eddy dynamical characteristics estimated from satellite altimetry: birth (22 days), growth (64 days), and decay (47 days). Similar patterns are also distinguished from dynamic signals in HYCOM. Further, flows reversal and upwelling of cold water below 1500 m were captured by the in-situ records when this energetic, highly nonlinear and long-lived (over 19 weeks) AE passed by our mooring position. Its detailed vertical structure is examined through temperature anomalies, vertical shear of horizontal velocities, and horizontal streamlines estimated from ocean model reanalysis data. Results from the model reveal a mesoscale AE with first-mode baroclinic structure: a bowl-shaped anticyclonic flow in the upper ocean connected to a slant-cylinder cyclonic flow at depth, with a transition layer at depths between 400 and 700 m. It is in good agreement with moored observations but showing a shallower transition depth, suggesting a slight deficiency in the model due to limited deep-sea observations. Last, we estimate eddy heat transport at different depths and stages along the AE’s path based on the model data. The result reveals that pronounced heat fluxes occur during growth stage (depths <400 m), counting for 73.03% of the total value. In the decay stage, major heat transport occurs at deeper depth (depths >700–1500 m). Dynamical characteristics suggest that the vertical structure and temporal evolution of the eddy play significant roles in basin-scale movement and heat transferring. Considering that mesoscale eddies are ubiquitous in the SCS, our results support a recently-proposed mechanism, whereby upper ocean flows produce changes in the deep-sea circulation, potentially influencing boundary layer dynamics. For the first time to track and link an individual AE observed by satellite altimetry and ocean model, comparisons indicate that assimilative HYCOM outputs may be useful for examining the deep ocean properties within the SCS, especially under the impact of such an intensified surface-detected eddy.


Deep-reaching mesoscale eddy Evolution HYCOM The South China Sea 


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We thank Shaohua Zhao, Xiajing Li, Quan Chen, Qin Zhang, Yanli Li, and Ke Wen for their assistance in deploying and retrieving the mooring observation system. Mooring measurements at Stations C6 and C7 were kindly provided by Prof. Wei Zhao, Dr. Zhiwei Zhang, and Prof. Jiwei Tian of Ocean University of China. We gratefully acknowledge their support and suggestions on model data validation. The constructive suggestions from Prof. Lie-Yauw Oey and Dr. Christian Buckingham are greatly appreciated. Discussions with Prof. Eric Chassignet on HYCOM outputs were also particularly helpful. We are most grateful to Prof. Gert J. de Lange polishing grammar within the text. Simulated and reanalyzed products were distributed by HYCOM ( and SSALTO/DUACS 2014 merged altimeter data were distributed by AVISO with help from CNES ( Argo data were made available by the International Argo Program and the national programs that contribute to it ( The Argo Program is part of the Global Ocean Observing System. All data used in this study are provided within the supporting online material. This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 91128206, 41576005, 91528304 & 41530964).

Supplementary material


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Copyright information

© Science China Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Meng Wang
    • 1
  • Yanwei Zhang
    • 1
    Email author
  • Zhifei Liu
    • 1
  • Yulong Zhao
    • 1
  • Jianru Li
    • 1
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Marine GeologyTongji UniversityShanghaiChina

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