The dynamics of abyssal equator-crossing flows are examined by studying simplified models of the flow in the equatorial region in the context of reduced-gravity shallow water theory. A simple “frictional geostrophic” model for one-layer cross-equatorial flow is described, in which geostrophy is replaced at the equator by frictional flow down the pressure gradient. This model is compared via numerical simulations to the one-layer reduced-gravity shallow water model for flow over realistic equatorial Atlantic Ocean bottom topography. It is argued that nonlinear advection is important at key locations where it permits the current to flow against a pressure gradient, a mechanism absent in the frictional geostrophic model and one of the reasons this model predicts less cross-equatorial flow than the shallow water model under similar conditions. Simulations of the shallow water model with an annually varying mass source reproduce the correct amplitude of observed time variability of cross-equatorial flow. The time evolution of volume transport across specific locations suggests that mass is stored in an equatorial basin, which can reduce the amplitude of time dependence of fluid actually proceeding into the Northern Hemisphere as compared to the amount entering the equatorial basin. Observed time series of temperature data at the equator are shown to be consistent with this hypothesis.
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