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Impact of Barrier Layer Thickness on SST in the Central Tropical North Atlantic

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  • 1 University of Washington/Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, Seattle, Washington
  • | 2 NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

Measurements from three long-term moored buoys are used to investigate the impact of barrier layer thickness (BLT) on the seasonal cycle of sea surface temperature (SST) in the central tropical North Atlantic Ocean. It is found that seasonal variations of the BLT exert a considerable influence on SST through their modulation of the vertical heat flux at the base of the mixed layer, estimated as the residual in the mixed layer heat balance. Cooling associated with this term is strongest when the barrier layer is thin and the vertical temperature gradient at the base of the mixed layer is strong. Conversely, thick barrier layers are associated with a significant reduction in the vertical temperature gradient at the base of the mixed layer, which suppresses the upward transfer of cooler water into the mixed layer. Forced ocean and coupled ocean–atmosphere models that do not properly simulate the barrier layer may have difficulty reproducing the observed seasonal cycle of SST in the tropical North Atlantic.

* Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Contribution Number 3194 and Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean Contribution Number 1486

Corresponding author address: Gregory R. Foltz, NOAA/PMEL, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115. Email: gregory.foltz@noaa.gov

Abstract

Measurements from three long-term moored buoys are used to investigate the impact of barrier layer thickness (BLT) on the seasonal cycle of sea surface temperature (SST) in the central tropical North Atlantic Ocean. It is found that seasonal variations of the BLT exert a considerable influence on SST through their modulation of the vertical heat flux at the base of the mixed layer, estimated as the residual in the mixed layer heat balance. Cooling associated with this term is strongest when the barrier layer is thin and the vertical temperature gradient at the base of the mixed layer is strong. Conversely, thick barrier layers are associated with a significant reduction in the vertical temperature gradient at the base of the mixed layer, which suppresses the upward transfer of cooler water into the mixed layer. Forced ocean and coupled ocean–atmosphere models that do not properly simulate the barrier layer may have difficulty reproducing the observed seasonal cycle of SST in the tropical North Atlantic.

* Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Contribution Number 3194 and Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean Contribution Number 1486

Corresponding author address: Gregory R. Foltz, NOAA/PMEL, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115. Email: gregory.foltz@noaa.gov

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