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Understanding the Role of Ocean Dynamics in Midlatitude Sea Surface Temperature Variability Using a Simple Stochastic Climate Model

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  • 1 aDepartment of Atmospheric Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
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Abstract

In a recent paper, we argued that ocean dynamics increase the variability of midlatitude sea surface temperatures (SSTs) on monthly to interannual time scales, but act to damp lower-frequency SST variability over broad midlatitude regions. Here, we use two configurations of a simple stochastic climate model to provide new insights into this important aspect of climate variability. The simplest configuration includes the forcing and damping of SST variability by observed surface heat fluxes only, and the more complex configuration includes forcing and damping by ocean processes, which are estimated indirectly from monthly observations. It is found that the simple model driven only by the observed surface heat fluxes generally produces midlatitude SST power spectra that are too red compared to observations. Including ocean processes in the model reduces this discrepancy by whitening the midlatitude SST spectra. In particular, ocean processes generally increase the SST variance on <2-yr time scales and decrease it on >2-yr time scales. This happens because oceanic forcing increases the midlatitude SST variance across many time scales, but oceanic damping outweighs oceanic forcing on >2-yr time scales, particularly away from the western boundary currents. The whitening of midlatitude SST variability by ocean processes also operates in NCAR’s Community Earth System Model (CESM). That is, midlatitude SST spectra are generally redder when the same atmospheric model is coupled to a slab rather than dynamically active ocean model. Overall, the results suggest that forcing and damping by ocean processes play essential roles in driving midlatitude SST variability.

© 2022 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: Casey Patrizio, casey.patrizio@colostate.edu

Abstract

In a recent paper, we argued that ocean dynamics increase the variability of midlatitude sea surface temperatures (SSTs) on monthly to interannual time scales, but act to damp lower-frequency SST variability over broad midlatitude regions. Here, we use two configurations of a simple stochastic climate model to provide new insights into this important aspect of climate variability. The simplest configuration includes the forcing and damping of SST variability by observed surface heat fluxes only, and the more complex configuration includes forcing and damping by ocean processes, which are estimated indirectly from monthly observations. It is found that the simple model driven only by the observed surface heat fluxes generally produces midlatitude SST power spectra that are too red compared to observations. Including ocean processes in the model reduces this discrepancy by whitening the midlatitude SST spectra. In particular, ocean processes generally increase the SST variance on <2-yr time scales and decrease it on >2-yr time scales. This happens because oceanic forcing increases the midlatitude SST variance across many time scales, but oceanic damping outweighs oceanic forcing on >2-yr time scales, particularly away from the western boundary currents. The whitening of midlatitude SST variability by ocean processes also operates in NCAR’s Community Earth System Model (CESM). That is, midlatitude SST spectra are generally redder when the same atmospheric model is coupled to a slab rather than dynamically active ocean model. Overall, the results suggest that forcing and damping by ocean processes play essential roles in driving midlatitude SST variability.

© 2022 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: Casey Patrizio, casey.patrizio@colostate.edu
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