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Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



Chinese Science Bulletin





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Recent progress of physical oceanography in the South China Sea (SCS) associated with the western boundary current (WBC) and eddies is reviewed in this paper. It includes Argo observations of the WBC, eddy detection in the WBC based on satellite images, cross-continental shelf exchange in the WBC, eddy-current interaction, interannual variability of the WBC, air-sea interaction, the SCS throughflow (SCSTF), among others. The WBC in the SCS is strong, and its structure, variability and dynamic processes on seasonal and interannual time scales are yet to be fully understood. In this paper, we summarize progresses on the variability of the WBC, eddy-current interaction, air-sea interaction, and the SCSTF achieved in the past few years. Firstly, using the drifting buoy observations, we point out that the WBC becomes stronger and narrower after it reaches the central Vietnam coast. The pos-sible mechanisms influencing the ocean circulation in the northern SCS are discussed, and the dynamic mechanisms that induce the countercurrent in the region of northern branch of WBC in winter are also studied quantitatively using momentum balance. The geostropic component of the WBC was diagnosed using the ship observation along 18°N, and we found that the WBC changed significantly on interannual time scale. Secondly, using the ship observations, two anti-cyclonic eddies in the winter of 2003/2004 in the northern SCS, and three anti-cyclonic eddies in the summer of 2007 along 18°N were studied. The results show that the two anti-cyclonic eddies can propagate southwestward along the continental shelf at the speed of first Rossby wave (~0.1 m s1) in winter, and the interaction between the three anti-cyclonic eddies in summer and the WBC in the SCS is preliminarily revealed. Eddies on the continental shelf of northern SCS propagated southeastward with a maximum speed of 0.09 m s-1, and those to the east of Vietnam coast had the largest kinetic energy, both of which imply strong interaction between eddy activity and WBC in the SCS. Thirdly, strong intraseasonal variability (ISV) of sea surface temperature (SST) near the WBC regions was found, and the ISV signal of SST in winter weakens the ISV signal of latent heat flux by 20%. Fourthly, the long-term change of SCSTF volume transport and its connection with the ocean circulation in the Pacific were discussed.


doi: 10.1007/s11434-012-5663-4


South China Sea, western boundary current, eddy, eddy-current interaction, intraseasonal variability

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