The Fraser Gyre: A cyclonic eddy off the coast of eastern Australia

Mochamad Furqon Azis Ismail, Joachim Ribbe, Johannes Karstensen, Charles Lemckert, Serena Lee, Johann Gustafson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


This paper examines the on-shelf circulation of the eastern Australian continental shelf for a region off southeast Queensland. We identify a characteristic seasonally reoccurring wind-driven cyclonic flow. It influences the cross-shelf exchange with the East Australian Current (EAC), which is the western boundary current of the South Pacific Ocean. We refer to this cyclonic circulation as the Fraser Gyre. It is located south of Fraser Island between about 25 °S and 27 °S. The region is adjacent to the intensification zone of the EAC where the current accelerates and establishes a swift, albeit seasonally variable southward boundary flow. Through the analysis of several data sets including remotely sensed sea surface temperature and sea surface height anomaly, satellite tracked surface drifters, ocean and atmospheric reanalysis data as well as geostrophic currents from altimetry, we find that the on-shelf Fraser Gyre develops during the southern hemisphere autumn and winter months. The gyre is associated with a longshore near-coast northward flow. Maximum northward on-shelf depth averaged velocities are estimated with about 0.15–0.26 ms-1. The flow turns eastward just to the south of Fraser Island and joins the persistent southward EAC flow along the shelf break. The annual mean net cross-shelf outward and inward flow associated with the gyre is about −1.17 ± 0.23 Sv in the north and 0.23 ± 0.13 Sv (1 Sv = 106 m3s−1) in the south. Mean seasonal water renewal time scales of the continental shelf are longest during austral winter with an average of about 3.3 days due to the Fraser Gyre retaining water over the shelf, however, monthly estimates range from 2 to 8 days with the longer timescale during the austral autumn and winter. The southerly wind during austral autumn and winter is identified as controlling the on shelf circulation and is the principal driver of the seasonally appearing Fraser Gyre. The conceptual model of the Fraser Gyre is consistent with general physical principals of the coastal shelf circulation. A southerly wind is associated with surface layer flow toward the coast, a near coast positive SSHa with a current in the direction of the wind, down-welling and export of shelf water. The Fraser Gyre influenced cross-shelf exchanges are possibly facilitating the offshore transport of fish larvae, sediments, nutrients, river discharges, and other properties across the shelf break and into the southward flowing EAC during the austral autumn and winter.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-85
Number of pages14
JournalEstuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jun 2017


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