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A Further Study of the Tropical Western Hemisphere Warm Pool

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  • 1 NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, Miami, Florida
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Abstract

Variability of the tropical Western Hemisphere warm pool (WHWP) of water warmer than 28.5°C, which extends seasonally over parts of the eastern North Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and the western tropical North Atlantic (TNA), was previously studied by Wang and Enfield using the da Silva data from 1945–93. Using additional datasets of the NCEP–NCAR reanalysis field and the NCEP SST from 1950–99, and the Levitus climatological subsurface temperature, the present paper confirms and extends the previous study of Wang and Enfield. The WHWP alternates with northern South America as the seasonal heating source for the Walker and Hadley circulations in the Western Hemisphere. During the boreal winter a strong Hadley cell emanates northward from the Amazon heat source with subsidence over the subtropical North Atlantic north of 20°N, sustaining a strong North Atlantic anticyclone and associated northeast (NE) trade winds over its southern limb in the TNA. This circulation, including the NE trades, is weakened during Pacific El Niño winters and results in a spring warming of the TNA, which in turn induces the development of an unusually large summer warm pool and a wetter Caribbean rainy season. As the WHWP develops in the late boreal spring, the center of tropospheric heating and convection shifts to the WHWP region, whence the summer Hadley circulation emanates from the WHWP and forks into the subsidence regions of the subtropical South Atlantic and South Pacific. During the summers following El Niño, when the warm pool is larger than normal, the increased Hadley flow into the subtropical South Pacific reinforces the South Pacific anticyclone and trade winds, probably playing a role in the transition back to the cool phase of ENSO.

Seasonally, surface heat fluxes seem to be primarily responsible for warming of the WHWP. Interannually, all of the datasets suggest that a positive ocean–atmosphere feedback through longwave radiation and associated cloudiness seems to operate in the WHWP. During the winter preceding a large warm pool, there is a strong weakening of the Hadley cell that serves as a “tropospheric bridge” for transferring El Niño effects to the Atlantic sector and inducing warming of the warm pool. Associated with the warm SST anomalies is a decrease in sea level pressure anomalies and an anomalous increase in atmospheric convection and cloudiness. The increase in convective activity and cloudiness results in less longwave radiation loss from the sea surface, which then reinforces SST anomalies. This data-inferred hypothesis of the longwave radiation feedback process needs to be further investigated for its validation in the WHWP.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Chunzai Wang, NOAA/AOML, Physical Oceanography Division, 4301 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, FL 33149. Chunzai.Wang@noaa.gov

Abstract

Variability of the tropical Western Hemisphere warm pool (WHWP) of water warmer than 28.5°C, which extends seasonally over parts of the eastern North Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and the western tropical North Atlantic (TNA), was previously studied by Wang and Enfield using the da Silva data from 1945–93. Using additional datasets of the NCEP–NCAR reanalysis field and the NCEP SST from 1950–99, and the Levitus climatological subsurface temperature, the present paper confirms and extends the previous study of Wang and Enfield. The WHWP alternates with northern South America as the seasonal heating source for the Walker and Hadley circulations in the Western Hemisphere. During the boreal winter a strong Hadley cell emanates northward from the Amazon heat source with subsidence over the subtropical North Atlantic north of 20°N, sustaining a strong North Atlantic anticyclone and associated northeast (NE) trade winds over its southern limb in the TNA. This circulation, including the NE trades, is weakened during Pacific El Niño winters and results in a spring warming of the TNA, which in turn induces the development of an unusually large summer warm pool and a wetter Caribbean rainy season. As the WHWP develops in the late boreal spring, the center of tropospheric heating and convection shifts to the WHWP region, whence the summer Hadley circulation emanates from the WHWP and forks into the subsidence regions of the subtropical South Atlantic and South Pacific. During the summers following El Niño, when the warm pool is larger than normal, the increased Hadley flow into the subtropical South Pacific reinforces the South Pacific anticyclone and trade winds, probably playing a role in the transition back to the cool phase of ENSO.

Seasonally, surface heat fluxes seem to be primarily responsible for warming of the WHWP. Interannually, all of the datasets suggest that a positive ocean–atmosphere feedback through longwave radiation and associated cloudiness seems to operate in the WHWP. During the winter preceding a large warm pool, there is a strong weakening of the Hadley cell that serves as a “tropospheric bridge” for transferring El Niño effects to the Atlantic sector and inducing warming of the warm pool. Associated with the warm SST anomalies is a decrease in sea level pressure anomalies and an anomalous increase in atmospheric convection and cloudiness. The increase in convective activity and cloudiness results in less longwave radiation loss from the sea surface, which then reinforces SST anomalies. This data-inferred hypothesis of the longwave radiation feedback process needs to be further investigated for its validation in the WHWP.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Chunzai Wang, NOAA/AOML, Physical Oceanography Division, 4301 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, FL 33149. Chunzai.Wang@noaa.gov

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