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Frontal Scale Air–Sea Interaction in High-Resolution Coupled Climate Models

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  • 1 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado
  • | 2 College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon
  • | 3 NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia
  • | 4 Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California
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Abstract

The emerging picture of frontal scale air–sea interaction derived from high-resolution satellite observations of surface winds and sea surface temperature (SST) provides a unique opportunity to test the fidelity of high-resolution coupled climate simulations. Initial analysis of the output of a suite of Community Climate System Model (CCSM) experiments indicates that characteristics of frontal scale ocean–atmosphere interaction, such as the positive correlation between SST and surface wind stress, are realistically captured only when the ocean component is eddy resolving. The strength of the coupling between SST and surface stress is weaker than observed, however, as has been found previously for numerical weather prediction models and other coupled climate models. The results are similar when the atmospheric component model grid resolution is doubled from 0.5° to 0.25°, an indication that shortcomings in the representation of subgrid scale atmospheric planetary boundary layer processes, rather than resolved scale processes, are responsible for the weakness of the coupling. In the coupled model solutions the response to mesoscale SST features is strongest in the atmospheric boundary layer, but there is a deeper reaching response of the atmospheric circulation apparent in free tropospheric clouds. This simulated response is shown to be consistent with satellite estimates of the relationship between mesoscale SST and all-sky albedo.

Corresponding author address: Frank O. Bryan, Oceanography Section, National Center for Atmospheric Research, P.O. Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80303. Email: bryan@ucar.edu

Abstract

The emerging picture of frontal scale air–sea interaction derived from high-resolution satellite observations of surface winds and sea surface temperature (SST) provides a unique opportunity to test the fidelity of high-resolution coupled climate simulations. Initial analysis of the output of a suite of Community Climate System Model (CCSM) experiments indicates that characteristics of frontal scale ocean–atmosphere interaction, such as the positive correlation between SST and surface wind stress, are realistically captured only when the ocean component is eddy resolving. The strength of the coupling between SST and surface stress is weaker than observed, however, as has been found previously for numerical weather prediction models and other coupled climate models. The results are similar when the atmospheric component model grid resolution is doubled from 0.5° to 0.25°, an indication that shortcomings in the representation of subgrid scale atmospheric planetary boundary layer processes, rather than resolved scale processes, are responsible for the weakness of the coupling. In the coupled model solutions the response to mesoscale SST features is strongest in the atmospheric boundary layer, but there is a deeper reaching response of the atmospheric circulation apparent in free tropospheric clouds. This simulated response is shown to be consistent with satellite estimates of the relationship between mesoscale SST and all-sky albedo.

Corresponding author address: Frank O. Bryan, Oceanography Section, National Center for Atmospheric Research, P.O. Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80303. Email: bryan@ucar.edu

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