Science in China Series D: Earth Sciences

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 127–138 | Cite as

Annual variation of sea surface height, dynamic topography and circulation in the South China Sea

A TOPEX/Poseidon satellite altimetry study
  • Li Li 
  • Xu Jindian 
  • Jing Chunsheng 
  • Wu Risheng 
  • Guo Xiaogang 


TOPEX/Poseidon satellite altimetry data from 1993 to 1999 were used to study mean annual variation of sea surface height anomaly (SSHA) in the South China Sea (SCS) and to reproduce its climatological monthly surface dynamic topography in conjunction with historical hydrographic data. The characters and rules of seasonal evolution of the SCS dynamic topography and its upper circulation were then discussed. Analyses indicate that annual variation of the SCS large-scale circulation could be divided into four major phases. In winter (from November to February), the SCS circulation is mainly controlled by double cyclonic gyres with domination of the northern gyre. Other corresponding features include the Kuroshio intrusion from the Luzon Strait and the northeastward off-shelf current in the area northwest off Kalimantan Island. The double gyre structure disassembled in spring (from March to April) when the northern gyre remains cyclonic, the southern gyre becomes anticyclonic, and the general circulation pattern shows a dipole. There is no obvious large-scale closed gyre inside the SCS basin in both summer (from May to July) and autumn (from August to October) when the SCS Monsoon Jet dominates the circulation, which flows northeastward across the SCS. Even so, circulation patterns of these two phases diverse significantly. From May to July, the SCS monsoon jet flows northward near the Vietnam coast and bends eastward along the topography southeast off Hainan Island at about 18°N forming an anticyclonic turn. It then turns northeastward after crossing the SCS. From August to October, however, the monsoon Jet leaves the coast of Vietnam and enters interior of the basin at about 13°N, and the general circulation pattern becomes cyclonic. The Kuroshio intrusion was not obvious in spring, summer and autumn. It is suggested from these observations that dynamic adjustment of the SCS circulation starts right after the peak period of the prevailing monsoon.


South China Sea satellite altimetry sea surface height dynamic topography circulation. 


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Copyright information

© Science in China Press 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Li Li 
    • 1
  • Xu Jindian 
    • 1
  • Jing Chunsheng 
    • 1
  • Wu Risheng 
    • 1
  • Guo Xiaogang 
    • 1
  1. 1.The Third Institute of Oceanography, State Oceanic AdministrationXiamenChina

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