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The Antarctic coastal current in the southeastern Weddell Sea

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Between January and March 1989 during EPOS leg 3, a hydrographic survey was carried out in the southeastern Weddell Sea on transects across the continental shelf and slope off Kapp Norvegia and Halley Bay. This data set represents oceanographic conditions during Antarctic summer. Winter observations were obtained during the Winter Weddell Gyre Study in September and October 1989. During summer the water in the surface layer is relatively warm and of low salinity. In the area of Halley Bay exceptionally warm conditions were encountered with sea surface temperatures of nearly +1°C. Over the upper continental slope a frontal zone separates Eastern Shelf Water from Antarctic Surface Water in the near surface layer and from Warm Deep Water in the deeper layers. The horizontal pressure gradient associated with the front produces the high velocity core of the Antarctic Coastal Current. In winter Antarctic Surface Water is replaced by colder Winter Water of higher salinity. Measurements from current meters moored off Kapp Norvegia and Vestkapp are used to describe the mean features of the current field and its fluctuations. At Kapp Norvegia annual mean current speeds range from 10 to 20 cm/s. The geostrophic current shear indicates that the speed of the current core decreases towards Halley Bay. The currents show significant seasonal variations with strong interannual differences. These compare well with the variations of the wind field observed at the Georg von Neumayer Station. Superimposed are higher frequency fluctuations with an energetic range between 5 and 15 days which is found in the wind measurements as well. A considerable part of the current velocity variance is due to the tides. The oceanographic conditions are strongly influenced by the local bottom topography. A topographic rise at the shelf edge off Kapp Norvegia reduces horizontal advection and allows a patch of cold Winter Water to be preserved into the summer. In contrast, a patch of Warm Deep Water was found on the shelf of Halley Bay. This illustrates rather heterogeneous conditions in the near bottom layers due to differences in the exchange rate with the open ocean as well as with the near surface layers.

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Data presented here were collected during the European Polarstern Study (EPOS) sponsored by the European Science Foundation

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Fahrbach, E., Rohardt, G. & Krause, G. The Antarctic coastal current in the southeastern Weddell Sea. Polar Biol 12, 171–182 (1992).

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  • Continental Shelf
  • Continental Slope
  • Oceanographic Condition
  • Horizontal Pressure Gradient
  • Hydrographic Survey