Analysis of the position and strength of westerlies and trades with implications for Agulhas leakage and South Benguela upwelling


The westerlies and trade winds over the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean are important drivers of the regional oceanography around southern Africa, including features such as the Agulhas Current, the Agulhas leakage, and the Benguela upwelling. Agulhas leakage constitutes a fraction of warm and saline water transport from the Indian Ocean into the South Atlantic. The leakage is stronger during intensified westerlies. Here, we analyze the wind stress of different observational and modeled atmospheric data sets (covering the last 2 millennia, the recent decades, and the 21st century) with regard to the intensity and position of the southeasterly trades and the westerlies. The analysis reveals that variations of both wind systems go hand in hand and that a poleward shift of the westerlies and trades and an intensification of westerlies took place during the recent decades. Furthermore, upwelling in South Benguela is slightly intensified when trades are shifted poleward. Projections for strength and position of the westerlies in the 21st century depend on assumed CO2 emissions and on their effect relative to the ozone forcing. In the strongest emission scenario (RCP8.5) the simulations show a further southward displacement, whereas in the weakest emission scenario (RCP2.6) a northward shift is modeled, possibly due to the effect of ozone recovery dominating the effect of anthropogenic greenhouse forcing. We conclude that the Agulhas leakage has intensified during the last decades and is projected to increase if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced. This will have a small impact on Benguela upwelling strength and may also have consequences for water mass characteristics in the upwelling region. An increased contribution of Agulhas water to the upwelling water masses will import more preformed nutrients and oxygen into the upwelling region.
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