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Observations of SST-Induced Perturbations of the Wind Stress Field over the Southern Ocean on Seasonal Timescales

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  • 1 College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon
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Abstract

The surface wind stress response to sea surface temperature (SST) over the latitude range 30°–60°S in the Southern Ocean is described from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's QuikSCAT scatterometer observations of wind stress and Reynolds analyses of SST during the 2-yr period August 1999 to July 2001. While ocean–atmosphere coupling at midlatitudes has previously been documented from several case studies, this is the first study to quantify this relation over the entire Southern Ocean. The spatial structures of the surface wind perturbations with wavelengths shorter than 10° latitude by 30° longitude are closely related to persistent spatial variations of the SST field on the same scales. The wind stress curl and divergence are shown to be linearly related, respectively, to the crosswind and downwind components of the SST gradient. The curl response has a magnitude only about half that of the divergence response. This observed coupling is consistent with the hypothesis that SST modification of marine atmospheric boundary layer (MABL) stability affects vertical turbulent mixing of momentum, inducing perturbations in the surface winds. The nonequivalence between the responses of the curl and divergence to the crosswind and downwind SST gradients suggests that secondary circulations in the MABL may also play an important role by producing significant perturbations in the surface wind field near SST fronts that are distinct from the vertical turbulent transfer of momentum. The importance of the wind stress curl in driving Ekman vertical velocity in the open ocean implies that the coupling between winds and SST may have important feedback effects on upper ocean processes near SST fronts.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Dudley B. Chelton, College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, 104 Ocean Admin. Bldg., Corvallis, OR 97331-5503. Email: chelton@coas.oregonstate.edu

Abstract

The surface wind stress response to sea surface temperature (SST) over the latitude range 30°–60°S in the Southern Ocean is described from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's QuikSCAT scatterometer observations of wind stress and Reynolds analyses of SST during the 2-yr period August 1999 to July 2001. While ocean–atmosphere coupling at midlatitudes has previously been documented from several case studies, this is the first study to quantify this relation over the entire Southern Ocean. The spatial structures of the surface wind perturbations with wavelengths shorter than 10° latitude by 30° longitude are closely related to persistent spatial variations of the SST field on the same scales. The wind stress curl and divergence are shown to be linearly related, respectively, to the crosswind and downwind components of the SST gradient. The curl response has a magnitude only about half that of the divergence response. This observed coupling is consistent with the hypothesis that SST modification of marine atmospheric boundary layer (MABL) stability affects vertical turbulent mixing of momentum, inducing perturbations in the surface winds. The nonequivalence between the responses of the curl and divergence to the crosswind and downwind SST gradients suggests that secondary circulations in the MABL may also play an important role by producing significant perturbations in the surface wind field near SST fronts that are distinct from the vertical turbulent transfer of momentum. The importance of the wind stress curl in driving Ekman vertical velocity in the open ocean implies that the coupling between winds and SST may have important feedback effects on upper ocean processes near SST fronts.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Dudley B. Chelton, College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, 104 Ocean Admin. Bldg., Corvallis, OR 97331-5503. Email: chelton@coas.oregonstate.edu

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