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Cool Indonesian throughflow as a consequence of restricted surface layer flow


Approximately 10 million m3 s-1 of water flow from the Pacific Ocean into the Indian Ocean through the Indonesian seas1. Within the Makassar Strait, the primary pathway of the flow2, the Indonesian throughflow is far cooler than estimated earlier, as pointed out recently on the basis of ocean current and temperature measurements3,4. Here we analyse ocean current and stratification data along with satellite-derived wind measurements, and find that during the boreal winter monsoon, the wind drives buoyant, low-salinity Java Sea surface water into the southern Makassar Strait, creating a northward pressure gradient in the surface layer of the strait. This surface layer ‘freshwater plug’ inhibits the warm surface water from the Pacific Ocean from flowing southward into the Indian Ocean, leading to a cooler Indian Ocean sea surface5,6,7, which in turn may weaken the Asian monsoon8. The summer wind reversal eliminates the obstructing pressure gradient, by transferring more-saline Banda Sea surface water into the southern Makassar Strait. The coupling of the southeast Asian freshwater budget to the Pacific and Indian Ocean surface temperatures by the proposed mechanism may represent an important negative feedback within the climate system.

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Figure 1: The Indonesian seas.
Figure 2: Profile of meridional velocity and transport as measured from mooring no. 1 (Fig. 1).
Figure 3: Differences in density and dynamic height within the upper 100 m between the northern and southern Makassar Strait (northern subtracted from southern) for two monsoon phases.
Figure 4: Makassar Strait surface layer current and Java and Makassar wind time series.


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This research is supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Office of Naval Research.

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Correspondence to Arnold L. Gordon.

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Gordon, A., Susanto, R. & Vranes, K. Cool Indonesian throughflow as a consequence of restricted surface layer flow. Nature 425, 824–828 (2003).

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