Variation in sea temperature and the East Australian Current in the Solitary Islands region between 2001-2008

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Malcolm, HA, Davies, P, Jordan, A & Smith, SDA 2011, 'Variation in sea temperature and the East Australian Current in the Solitary Islands region between 2001-2008', Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography, vol. 58, no. 5, pp. 616-627.

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Improved understanding of the East Australian Current (EAC) and sea-temperature patterns within the Solitary Islands region of northern New South Wales, an area where tropical and temperate faunas overlap, is an essential step in explaining cross-shelf gradients in biotic patterns. Sea temperature at ∼10 m was logged using thermistors at seven stations every 30 minutes between January 2001 and December 2008. Stations were replicated in three distance-from-shore categories (6 km from the coast), corresponding with predominant assemblage patterns of reef fish. Daily, monthly, seasonal and yearly sea-temperature patterns were compared between and within stations and distance-from-shore categories. SST images were examined to determine the role of the EAC in producing short-period (2 to 4 days) temperature anomalies. Sea temperatures ranged between 16.6–27.5 °C and were highest offshore and lowest inshore. Offshore sites experienced average temperatures ∼1 °C higher than nearshore sites over the 8-year study. There was considerable variation in sea temperature between years, with 2002 and 2006 being the warmest and 2007 the coolest. These patterns correspond with strong inter-annual variability of the EAC at the scale of the Solitary Islands region. The EAC influenced shelf waters most strongly during late spring/summer when temperatures were also most variable over the smallest temporal scales (hours, days). Short-period anomalies between and within stations could largely be explained by variable encroachment of the EAC across the shelf and/or colder intrusions of water forming adjacent to the coastline. Previous assumptions that the EAC strongly influences gradients in the distribution of tropical species in this nearshore region are strongly supported.