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Mechanisms Controlling the Interannual Variation of Mixed Layer Temperature Averaged over the Niño-3 Region

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  • 1 Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California
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Abstract

Processes controlling the interannual variation of mixed layer temperature (MLT) averaged over the Niño-3 domain (5°N–5°S, 150°–90°W) are studied using an ocean data assimilation product that covers the period of 1993–2003. The overall balance is such that surface heat flux opposes the MLT change but horizontal advection and subsurface processes assist the change. Advective tendencies are estimated here as the temperature fluxes through the domain’s boundaries, with the boundary temperature referenced to the domain-averaged temperature to remove the dependence on temperature scale. This allows the authors to characterize external advective processes that warm or cool the water within the domain as a whole. The zonal advective tendency is caused primarily by large-scale advection of warm-pool water through the western boundary of the domain. The meridional advective tendency is contributed to mostly by Ekman current advecting large-scale temperature anomalies through the southern boundary of the domain. Unlike many previous studies, the subsurface processes that consist of vertical mixing and entrainment are explicitly evaluated. In particular, a rigorous method to estimate entrainment allows an exact budget closure. The vertical mixing across the mixed layer (ML) base has a contribution in phase with the MLT change. The entrainment tendency due to the temporal change in ML depth is negligible compared to other subsurface processes. The entrainment tendency by vertical advection across the ML base is dominated by large-scale changes in upwelling and the temperature of upwelling water. Tropical instability waves (TIWs) result in smaller-scale vertical advection that warms the domain during La Niña cooling events. However, such a warming tendency is overwhelmed by the cooling tendency associated with the large-scale upwelling by a factor of 2. In summary, all the balance terms are important in the MLT budget except the entrainment due to lateral induction and temporal variation in ML depth. All three advective tendencies are primarily caused by large-scale and low-frequency processes, and they assist the Niño-3 MLT change.

When the advective tendencies are evaluated by spatially averaging the conventional local advection of temperature, the apparent effects of currents with spatial scales smaller than the domain (such as TIWs) become very important as they redistribute heat within the Niño-3 domain. As a result, for example, the averaged zonal advective tendency counteracts rather than assists the Niño-3 MLT change. However, such internal redistribution of heat does not represent external processes that control the domain-averaged MLT.

* Current affiliation: Remote Sensing Systems, Santa Rosa, California

Corresponding author address: Dr. S. B. Kim, Remote Sensing Systems, 438 First St., Suite 200, Santa Rosa, CA 95401. Email: kim@remss.com

Abstract

Processes controlling the interannual variation of mixed layer temperature (MLT) averaged over the Niño-3 domain (5°N–5°S, 150°–90°W) are studied using an ocean data assimilation product that covers the period of 1993–2003. The overall balance is such that surface heat flux opposes the MLT change but horizontal advection and subsurface processes assist the change. Advective tendencies are estimated here as the temperature fluxes through the domain’s boundaries, with the boundary temperature referenced to the domain-averaged temperature to remove the dependence on temperature scale. This allows the authors to characterize external advective processes that warm or cool the water within the domain as a whole. The zonal advective tendency is caused primarily by large-scale advection of warm-pool water through the western boundary of the domain. The meridional advective tendency is contributed to mostly by Ekman current advecting large-scale temperature anomalies through the southern boundary of the domain. Unlike many previous studies, the subsurface processes that consist of vertical mixing and entrainment are explicitly evaluated. In particular, a rigorous method to estimate entrainment allows an exact budget closure. The vertical mixing across the mixed layer (ML) base has a contribution in phase with the MLT change. The entrainment tendency due to the temporal change in ML depth is negligible compared to other subsurface processes. The entrainment tendency by vertical advection across the ML base is dominated by large-scale changes in upwelling and the temperature of upwelling water. Tropical instability waves (TIWs) result in smaller-scale vertical advection that warms the domain during La Niña cooling events. However, such a warming tendency is overwhelmed by the cooling tendency associated with the large-scale upwelling by a factor of 2. In summary, all the balance terms are important in the MLT budget except the entrainment due to lateral induction and temporal variation in ML depth. All three advective tendencies are primarily caused by large-scale and low-frequency processes, and they assist the Niño-3 MLT change.

When the advective tendencies are evaluated by spatially averaging the conventional local advection of temperature, the apparent effects of currents with spatial scales smaller than the domain (such as TIWs) become very important as they redistribute heat within the Niño-3 domain. As a result, for example, the averaged zonal advective tendency counteracts rather than assists the Niño-3 MLT change. However, such internal redistribution of heat does not represent external processes that control the domain-averaged MLT.

* Current affiliation: Remote Sensing Systems, Santa Rosa, California

Corresponding author address: Dr. S. B. Kim, Remote Sensing Systems, 438 First St., Suite 200, Santa Rosa, CA 95401. Email: kim@remss.com

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