The mechanism responsible for the annual cycle of the flow through the straits of the Japan Sea is investigated using a two-layer model. Observations show maximum throughflow from summer to fall and minimum in winter, occurring synchronously at the three major straits: Tsushima, Tsugaru, and Soya Straits. This study finds the subpolar winds located to the north of Japan as the leading forcing agent, which first affects the Soya Strait rather than the Tsushima or Tsugaru Straits. The subpolar winds generate baroclinic Kelvin waves along the coastlines of the subpolar gyre, affect the sea surface height at the Soya Strait, and modify the flow through the strait. This causes barotropic adjustment to occur inside the Japan Sea and thus affect the flow at the Tsugaru and Tsushima Straits almost synchronously. The barotropic adjustment mechanism explains well why the observations show a similar annual cycle at the three straits. The annual cycle at the Tsugaru Strait is further shown to be weaker than that in the other two straits based on frictional balance around islands, that is, frictional stresses exerted around an island integrate to zero. In the Tsugaru Strait, the flows induced by the frictional integrals around the northern (Hokkaido) and southern (Honshu) islands are in opposite directions and tend to cancel out. Frictional balance also suggests that the annual cycle at the Tsugaru Strait is likely in phase with that at the Soya Strait because the length scale of the northern island is much shorter than that of the southern island.
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