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Atmospheric and Oceanic Origins of Tropical Precipitation Variability

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  • 1 Princeton University, and NOAA/Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton, New Jersey
  • | 2 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado
  • | 3 Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, Miami, Florida
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Abstract

The intrinsic atmospheric and ocean-induced tropical precipitation variability is studied using millennial control simulations with various degrees of ocean coupling. A comparison between the coupled simulation and the atmosphere-only simulation with climatological sea surface temperatures (SSTs) shows that a substantial amount of tropical precipitation variability is generated without oceanic influence. This intrinsic atmospheric variability features a red noise spectrum from daily to monthly time scales and a white noise spectrum beyond the monthly time scale. The oceanic impact is inappreciable for submonthly time scales but important at interannual and longer time scales. For time scales longer than a year, it enhances precipitation variability throughout much of the tropical oceans and suppresses it in some subtropical areas, preferentially in the summer hemisphere. The sign of the ocean-induced precipitation variability can be inferred from the local precipitation–SST relationship, which largely reflects the local feedbacks between the two, although nonlocal forcing associated with El Niño–Southern Oscillation also plays a role. The thermodynamic and dynamic nature of the ocean-induced precipitation variability is studied by comparing the fully coupled and slab ocean simulations. For time scales longer than a year, equatorial precipitation variability is almost entirely driven by ocean circulation, except in the Atlantic Ocean. In the rest of the tropics, ocean-induced precipitation variability is dominated by mixed layer thermodynamics. Additional analyses indicate that both dynamic and thermodynamic oceanic processes are important for establishing the leading modes of large-scale tropical precipitation variability. On the other hand, ocean dynamics likely dampens tropical Pacific variability at multidecadal time scales and beyond.

Denotes content that is immediately available upon publication as open access.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-16-0714.s1.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

© 2017 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author e-mail: Jie He, jie.he@noaa.gov

Abstract

The intrinsic atmospheric and ocean-induced tropical precipitation variability is studied using millennial control simulations with various degrees of ocean coupling. A comparison between the coupled simulation and the atmosphere-only simulation with climatological sea surface temperatures (SSTs) shows that a substantial amount of tropical precipitation variability is generated without oceanic influence. This intrinsic atmospheric variability features a red noise spectrum from daily to monthly time scales and a white noise spectrum beyond the monthly time scale. The oceanic impact is inappreciable for submonthly time scales but important at interannual and longer time scales. For time scales longer than a year, it enhances precipitation variability throughout much of the tropical oceans and suppresses it in some subtropical areas, preferentially in the summer hemisphere. The sign of the ocean-induced precipitation variability can be inferred from the local precipitation–SST relationship, which largely reflects the local feedbacks between the two, although nonlocal forcing associated with El Niño–Southern Oscillation also plays a role. The thermodynamic and dynamic nature of the ocean-induced precipitation variability is studied by comparing the fully coupled and slab ocean simulations. For time scales longer than a year, equatorial precipitation variability is almost entirely driven by ocean circulation, except in the Atlantic Ocean. In the rest of the tropics, ocean-induced precipitation variability is dominated by mixed layer thermodynamics. Additional analyses indicate that both dynamic and thermodynamic oceanic processes are important for establishing the leading modes of large-scale tropical precipitation variability. On the other hand, ocean dynamics likely dampens tropical Pacific variability at multidecadal time scales and beyond.

Denotes content that is immediately available upon publication as open access.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-16-0714.s1.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

© 2017 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author e-mail: Jie He, jie.he@noaa.gov

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