On the Dependence of Hindcast Skill on Ocean Thermodynamics in a Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Model

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  • 1 Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre, Melbourne, Australia
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Abstract

Three different mechanisms for the generation of ENSO SST anomalies within a simplified tropical Pacific Ocean model are examined: thermocline depth changes, Ekman-induced upwelling anomalies, and zonal advection changes. The effect of varying the relative influence of these terms on the realism of tropical Pacific coupled models is analyzed. The principal tool used to assess such realism is hindcast skill, with forced ocean and oscillatory behavior also being examined. Of the mechanisms considered, thermocline perturbations are shown to be crucially important for high coupled-model hindcast skill. Furthermore, it is concluded that the realism of the model (as measured by hindcast skill) deteriorates markedly when the influence on SST of Ekman upwelling becomes greater than a small fraction of the thermocline influence. This provides strong evidence for the hypothesis that Ekman upwelling anomalies (which are essentially a local response to wind stress anomalies) have only a small influence on the creation of real world SST anomalies. The implications of this latter point for coupled models involving ocean general circulation models is briefly discussed. It is also demonstrated that western boundary reflections provide a vital role by means of a negative feedback in ensuring realistic performance. The hindcast skill (as measured by NINO3 anomaly correlation) demonstrated by a model involving only the thermocline mechanism can be tuned to exceed that of the benchmark Cane and Zebiak model for hindcast lags up to 7 months (from 7 to 12 months the model skills are roughly equal).

Abstract

Three different mechanisms for the generation of ENSO SST anomalies within a simplified tropical Pacific Ocean model are examined: thermocline depth changes, Ekman-induced upwelling anomalies, and zonal advection changes. The effect of varying the relative influence of these terms on the realism of tropical Pacific coupled models is analyzed. The principal tool used to assess such realism is hindcast skill, with forced ocean and oscillatory behavior also being examined. Of the mechanisms considered, thermocline perturbations are shown to be crucially important for high coupled-model hindcast skill. Furthermore, it is concluded that the realism of the model (as measured by hindcast skill) deteriorates markedly when the influence on SST of Ekman upwelling becomes greater than a small fraction of the thermocline influence. This provides strong evidence for the hypothesis that Ekman upwelling anomalies (which are essentially a local response to wind stress anomalies) have only a small influence on the creation of real world SST anomalies. The implications of this latter point for coupled models involving ocean general circulation models is briefly discussed. It is also demonstrated that western boundary reflections provide a vital role by means of a negative feedback in ensuring realistic performance. The hindcast skill (as measured by NINO3 anomaly correlation) demonstrated by a model involving only the thermocline mechanism can be tuned to exceed that of the benchmark Cane and Zebiak model for hindcast lags up to 7 months (from 7 to 12 months the model skills are roughly equal).

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