In the Coral Sea, the westerly South Equatorial Current bifurcates at the continental margin between 14-16°S, to produce a northward off-shelf current and the southerly East Australia Current (EAC). The ribbon barrier reefs in the north limit the exchange of oceanic water onto the shallow shelf; here the trade winds drive transient northward flows of shelf water. The Pompeys hard-line has a similar barrier effect in the south. In contrast, the open reef matrix of the deeper central GBR shelf allows episodic inflows of water from the EAC. Occasionally, upwellings of cool nutrient rich water intrude up and across the shelf.
Oceanic tides exert a strong influence on parts of the shelf. The topography of the southern GBR creates a tidal node, which causes very large amplitude tides in the Broad Sound and Shoalwater Bay region and extreme tidal currents. The same processes also cause very strong currents through the narrow passages between the Pompeys hard-line reefs offshore. Such currents scour away sediments, progressively depositing them in less energetic areas.
In the far northern GBR, the out-of-phase tides of the Coral and Timor Seas also cause very strong tidal currents, with similar effects. In addition, tidal jets flowing into passages between some ribbon reefs can also pump nutrient rich Coral Sea water onto localised areas of the outer shelf.
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