Coastal oceanic climate change and variability from 1982 to 2009 around South Africa

  • M Rouault
  • B Pohl
  • P Penven


Changes and fluctuations in sea surface temperature (SST) around the South African coast are analysed at a monthly scale from 1982 to 2009. There is a statistically significant negative trend of up to 0.5 °C per decade in the southern Benguela from January to August, and a cooling trend of lesser magnitude along the South Coast and in the Port Elizabeth/Port Alfred region from May to August. The cooling is due to an increase in upwelling-favourable south-easterly and easterly winds. There is a positive trend in SST of up to 0.55 °C per decade in most parts of the Agulhas Current system during all months of the year, except for  KwaZulu-Natal where warming is in summer. The warming was attributed to an intensification of the Agulhas Current in response to a poleward shift of westerly winds and an increase in trade winds in the  South Indian Ocean at relevant latitudes. This intensification of the  Agulhas Current could also have contributed to the coastal cooling in the Port Alfred dynamic upwelling region. The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is significantly positively correlated at a 95% level with the southern Benguela and South Coast from February to May, and negatively correlated with the Agulhas Current system south of 36° S. The correlation with the Antarctic Annular Oscillation is weaker and less coherent. El Niño suppresses upwelling along the coast, whereas La Niña increases it. Although there does not seem to be a linear relationship between the strength of the ENSO and the magnitude of coastal SST perturbation, El Niño and La Niña appear to be linked to major warm and cool events, respectively, at a seasonal scale in summer in the southern Benguela and along the South Coast. However, care must be taken in interpreting low-resolution reanalysed climate data (ERA40 and NCEP) and optimally interpolated Reynolds SST, such as used here.

Keywords: Agulhas Current, Benguela upwelling, climate change, ENSO, Southern Annular Mode

African Journal of Marine Science 2010, 32(2): 237–246

Author Biographies

M Rouault
Department of Oceanography, Marine Research Institute, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa
B Pohl
Centre de Recherches de Climatologie, CNRS / Université de Bourgogne, 6 boulevard Gabriel, 21000 Dijon, France
P Penven
Laboratoire de Physique des Oceans, UBO, IRD and IFREMER, 29280 Plouzané, France

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1814-2338
print ISSN: 1814-232X