Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere Interaction and Variability in the Tropical Atlantic Ocean with and without an Annual Cycle

Susan C. Bates Center for Ocean–Land–Atmosphere Studies, Calverton, Maryland

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Abstract

Many previous studies point to a connection between the annual cycle and interannual variability in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. To investigate the importance of the annual cycle in the generation of tropical Atlantic variability (TAV) as well as its associated coupled feedback mechanisms, a set of controlled experiments is conducted using a global coupled ocean–atmosphere general circulation model (GCM) in which the climatological annual cycle is modified. An anomaly coupling strategy was developed to improve the model-simulated annual cycle and mean sea surface temperature (SST), which is critical to the experiments. Experiments include a control simulation in which the annual cycle is present and a fixed annual cycle simulation in which the coupled model is forced to remain in a perpetual annual mean state. Results reveal that the patterns of TAV, defined as the leading three rotated EOFs, and their relationship to coupled feedback mechanisms are present even in the absence of the annual cycle, suggesting that the generation of TAV is not dependent on the annual cycle. Each pattern of variability arises from an alteration of the easterly trade winds. Results suggest that it is the presence of these winds in the mean state that is the determining factor for the structure of the coupled ocean–atmosphere variability. Additionally, the patterns of variability persist longer in the simulation with no annual cycle. Most remarkable is the doubling of the decay phase related to the north tropical Atlantic variability, which is attributed to the persistence of the local wind–evaporation–sea surface temperature (WES) feedback mechanism. The author concludes that the annual cycle acts to cut off or interrupt conditions favorable for feedback mechanisms to operate, therefore putting a limit on the length of the event life cycle.

Corresponding author address: Susan Bates, University of Washington, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Box 351640, Seattle, WA 98195-1640. Email: bates@atmos.washington.edu

Abstract

Many previous studies point to a connection between the annual cycle and interannual variability in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. To investigate the importance of the annual cycle in the generation of tropical Atlantic variability (TAV) as well as its associated coupled feedback mechanisms, a set of controlled experiments is conducted using a global coupled ocean–atmosphere general circulation model (GCM) in which the climatological annual cycle is modified. An anomaly coupling strategy was developed to improve the model-simulated annual cycle and mean sea surface temperature (SST), which is critical to the experiments. Experiments include a control simulation in which the annual cycle is present and a fixed annual cycle simulation in which the coupled model is forced to remain in a perpetual annual mean state. Results reveal that the patterns of TAV, defined as the leading three rotated EOFs, and their relationship to coupled feedback mechanisms are present even in the absence of the annual cycle, suggesting that the generation of TAV is not dependent on the annual cycle. Each pattern of variability arises from an alteration of the easterly trade winds. Results suggest that it is the presence of these winds in the mean state that is the determining factor for the structure of the coupled ocean–atmosphere variability. Additionally, the patterns of variability persist longer in the simulation with no annual cycle. Most remarkable is the doubling of the decay phase related to the north tropical Atlantic variability, which is attributed to the persistence of the local wind–evaporation–sea surface temperature (WES) feedback mechanism. The author concludes that the annual cycle acts to cut off or interrupt conditions favorable for feedback mechanisms to operate, therefore putting a limit on the length of the event life cycle.

Corresponding author address: Susan Bates, University of Washington, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Box 351640, Seattle, WA 98195-1640. Email: bates@atmos.washington.edu

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