Modelling coastal connectivity in a Western Boundary Current: Seasonal and inter-annual variability

Moninya Roughan*, Helen S. Macdonald, Mark E. Baird, Tim M. Glasby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding the transport and distribution of marine larvae by ocean currents is one of the key goals of population ecology. Here we investigate circulation in the East Australian Current (EAC) and its impact on the transport of larvae and coastal connectivity. A series of Lagrangian particle trajectory experiments are conducted in summer and winter from 1992-2006 which enables us to investigate seasonal and inter-annual variability. We also estimate a mean connectivity state from the average of each of the individual realisations. Connectivity patterns are related to the movement of five individual larval species (two tropical, two temperate and one invasive species) and are found to be in qualitative agreement with historical distribution patterns found along the coast of SE Australia. We use a configuration of the Princeton Ocean Model to investigate physical processes in the ocean along the coast of SE Australia where the circulation is dominated by the EAC, a vigorous western boundary current. We assimilate hydrographic fields from a ~10-km global analysis into a ~3-km resolution continental shelf model to create a high-resolution hindcast of ocean state for each summer and winter from 1992-2006. Particles are released along the coast of SE Australia, and at various isobaths across the shelf (25-1000. m) over timescales ranging from 10-90 days. Upstream of the EAC separation point across-shelf release location dominates the particle trajectory length scales, whereas seasonality dominates in the southern half of the domain, downstream of the separation point. Lagrangian probability density functions show dispersion pathways vary with release latitude, distance offshore and the timescale of dispersion. Northern (southern) release sites are typified by maximum (minimum) dispersal pathways. Offshore release distance also plays a role having the greatest impact at the mid-latitude release sites. Maximum alongshore dispersion occurs at the mid-latitude release sites such as Sydney. Seasonal variability is also greatest at mid-latitudes, associated with variations in the separation point of the EAC. Climatic variations such as El Niño and La Niña are also shown to play a role in dictating the connectivity patterns. La Niña periods have a tendency to increase summer time connectivity (particularly with offshore release sites) while El Niño periods are shown to increase winter connectivity. The EAC acts as a barrier to the onshore movement of particles offshore, which impacts on the connectivity of offshore release sites. Consequentially particles released inshore of the EAC jet exhibit a greater coastal connectivity than those released offshore of the EAC front. The separation point of the EAC also dictates connectivity with more sites being connected (with lower concentration) downstream of the separation point of the EAC. These results can provide a useful guide to the potential connectivity of marine populations, or the spread of invasive pests (via ballast water or release of propagules from established populations).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)628-644
Number of pages17
JournalDeep-Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2011


  • Connectivity matrices
  • East Australian Current
  • Larval transport

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