On the Observed Relationships between Variability in Gulf Stream Sea Surface Temperatures and the Atmospheric Circulation over the North Atlantic

Samantha M. Wills Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado

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David W. J. Thompson Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado

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Laura M. Ciasto Geophysical Institute, University of Bergen, and Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, Bergen, Norway

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Abstract

The advent of increasingly high-resolution satellite observations and numerical models has led to a series of advances in understanding the role of midlatitude sea surface temperature (SST) in climate variability, especially near western boundary currents (WBC). Observational analyses suggest that ocean dynamics play a central role in driving interannual SST variability over the Kuroshio–Oyashio and Gulf Stream extensions. Numerical experiments suggest that variations in the SST field within these WBC regions may have a much more pronounced influence on the atmospheric circulation than previously thought.

In this study, the authors examine the observational support for (or against) a robust atmospheric response to midlatitude SST variability in the Gulf Stream extension. To do so, they apply lead–lag analysis based on daily mean data to assess the evidence for two-way coupling between SST anomalies and the atmospheric circulation on transient time scales, building off of previous studies that have utilized weekly data. A novel decomposition approach is employed to demonstrate that atmospheric circulation anomalies over the Gulf Stream extension can be separated into two distinct patterns of midlatitude atmosphere–ocean interaction: 1) a pattern that peaks 2–3 weeks before the largest SST anomalies in the Gulf Stream extension, which can be viewed as the “atmospheric forcing,” and 2) a pattern that peaks several weeks after the largest SST anomalies, which the authors argue can be viewed as the “atmospheric response.” The latter pattern is linearly independent of the former and is interpreted as the potential response of the atmospheric circulation to SST variability in the Gulf Stream extension.

Corresponding author address: Samantha M. Wills, Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, 3915 W. Laport Ave., Fort Collins, CO 80521. E-mail: smwills@atmos.colostate.edu

Abstract

The advent of increasingly high-resolution satellite observations and numerical models has led to a series of advances in understanding the role of midlatitude sea surface temperature (SST) in climate variability, especially near western boundary currents (WBC). Observational analyses suggest that ocean dynamics play a central role in driving interannual SST variability over the Kuroshio–Oyashio and Gulf Stream extensions. Numerical experiments suggest that variations in the SST field within these WBC regions may have a much more pronounced influence on the atmospheric circulation than previously thought.

In this study, the authors examine the observational support for (or against) a robust atmospheric response to midlatitude SST variability in the Gulf Stream extension. To do so, they apply lead–lag analysis based on daily mean data to assess the evidence for two-way coupling between SST anomalies and the atmospheric circulation on transient time scales, building off of previous studies that have utilized weekly data. A novel decomposition approach is employed to demonstrate that atmospheric circulation anomalies over the Gulf Stream extension can be separated into two distinct patterns of midlatitude atmosphere–ocean interaction: 1) a pattern that peaks 2–3 weeks before the largest SST anomalies in the Gulf Stream extension, which can be viewed as the “atmospheric forcing,” and 2) a pattern that peaks several weeks after the largest SST anomalies, which the authors argue can be viewed as the “atmospheric response.” The latter pattern is linearly independent of the former and is interpreted as the potential response of the atmospheric circulation to SST variability in the Gulf Stream extension.

Corresponding author address: Samantha M. Wills, Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, 3915 W. Laport Ave., Fort Collins, CO 80521. E-mail: smwills@atmos.colostate.edu
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