Climate Dynamics

, Volume 47, Issue 5–6, pp 1629–1646 | Cite as

Dynamical and thermodynamical analysis of the South China Sea winter cold tongue

  • Bijoy Thompson
  • Pavel Tkalich
  • Paola Malanotte-Rizzoli
  • Bastien Fricot
  • Juliette Mas


Spatial distribution of the South China Sea (SCS) surface temperature shows strong cold anomalies over the Sunda Shelf during the boreal winter season. The band of low sea surface temperature (SST) region located south/southeast of Vietnam is called as the winter cold tongue (CT) in the SCS. Using observational and re-analysis datasets a comprehensive investigation of the dynamical and thermodynamical processes associated with the evolution of SCS CT is performed in this study. The role and relative importance of wind-driven ocean transports, air–sea heat fluxes and oceanic processes are explored. The north-south Sverdrup transport demonstrates strong southward transport during the northeast monsoon period aiding the SST cooling by bringing relatively cold water from the north. The zonal and meridional Ekman transports exhibit relatively weak westward and northward transports to the CT region during this period. The study suggests that wind-driven ocean transports have a significant role in regulating the shape and spatial extent of the CT. The heat budget analysis revealed that net surface heat flux decrease during the northeast monsoon acts as the primary cooling mechanism responsible for the development of the SCS CT, while the horizontal advection of cold water by the western boundary current along the coast of Vietnam plays a secondary role. The wintertime SST anomalies over the CT region are significantly linked to the Nino3 index. Most of the warming/cooling events in the SST anomalies coincide with the El Nino/La Nina phenomena in the Pacific Ocean.


South China Sea Cold tongue Wind-driven transport Heat budget 



This research was supported by the National Research Foundation Singapore through the Singapore MIT Alliance for Research and Technology’s Centre for Environmental Sensing and Modeling interdisciplinary research program. The authors thank the reviewers and the editor for their constructive comments to improve the manuscript. We acknowledge NCDC-NOAA, ECMWF, UMD, NOC and Aviso for the AVHRR OISSTv2, ERA-interim, SODA, NOC flux and Ssalto/Ducas geostrophic current field data sets respectively.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bijoy Thompson
    • 1
  • Pavel Tkalich
    • 1
  • Paola Malanotte-Rizzoli
    • 2
  • Bastien Fricot
    • 3
  • Juliette Mas
    • 3
  1. 1.Tropical Marine Science InstituteNational University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore
  2. 2.Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary SciencesMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA
  3. 3.French Naval AcademyBrestFrance

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