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Seasonality of Large-Scale Atmosphere–Ocean Interaction over the North Pacific

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

This paper attempts to resolve a long-standing paradox concerning the season-to-season memory of sea surface temperature anomalies (SSTAs) over the North Pacific. Summertime SSTAs are confined to a shallow mixed layer that is obliterated by wind-driven mixing in late autumn or early winter storms. The mixing exposes waters that were last in contact with the surface during the previous spring. Hence, SSTAs at fixed locations exhibit little memory from summer to the next winter. Yet despite this apparent lack of memory, a well-defined pattern of summertime and autumn SSTAs exhibits significant correlations with the sea level pressure field over the North Pacific a season later.

It is shown that the dominant mode of SSTA variability over the North Pacific, as inferred from empirical orthogonal function (EOF) analysis, exhibits a rather similar spatial structure year-round, with highest amplitude during summer. By means of singular value decomposition analysis, it is shown that this pattern is much more persistent from one season to the next (and particularly from summer to the next winter) than SSTAs at fixed grid points. It is substantially more persistent from one summer to the next than from one winter to the next, reflecting the relatively greater prominence of the interdecadal variability in the summertime SSTAs.

The minor differences in the structure of the winter and summer EOFs can be attributed to the coupling with the atmospheric Pacific North American pattern during winter, which induces SSTAs off the west coast of North America opposite in polarity to those in the central and western Pacific.

* Current affiliation: National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado.

Corresponding author address: Joel R. Norris, NCAR/ASP, P.O. Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307-3000.

Email: jnorris@ucar.edu

Abstract

This paper attempts to resolve a long-standing paradox concerning the season-to-season memory of sea surface temperature anomalies (SSTAs) over the North Pacific. Summertime SSTAs are confined to a shallow mixed layer that is obliterated by wind-driven mixing in late autumn or early winter storms. The mixing exposes waters that were last in contact with the surface during the previous spring. Hence, SSTAs at fixed locations exhibit little memory from summer to the next winter. Yet despite this apparent lack of memory, a well-defined pattern of summertime and autumn SSTAs exhibits significant correlations with the sea level pressure field over the North Pacific a season later.

It is shown that the dominant mode of SSTA variability over the North Pacific, as inferred from empirical orthogonal function (EOF) analysis, exhibits a rather similar spatial structure year-round, with highest amplitude during summer. By means of singular value decomposition analysis, it is shown that this pattern is much more persistent from one season to the next (and particularly from summer to the next winter) than SSTAs at fixed grid points. It is substantially more persistent from one summer to the next than from one winter to the next, reflecting the relatively greater prominence of the interdecadal variability in the summertime SSTAs.

The minor differences in the structure of the winter and summer EOFs can be attributed to the coupling with the atmospheric Pacific North American pattern during winter, which induces SSTAs off the west coast of North America opposite in polarity to those in the central and western Pacific.

* Current affiliation: National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado.

Corresponding author address: Joel R. Norris, NCAR/ASP, P.O. Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307-3000.

Email: jnorris@ucar.edu

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