On the “Slow Mode” Mechanism in ENSO-Related Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere Models

Chunzai Wang Department of Marine Science, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, Florida

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Robert H. Weisberg Department of Marine Science, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, Florida

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Abstract

A linear perturbation, coupled ocean–atmosphere model is revisited for further insights into the El Niño–Southern Oscillation phenomenon. The model oscillates as a slow, eastward propagating mode interpreted as a divergence mode, whose energetics are controlled by the ocean. Growth requires that the work performed by the wind stress minus the work required to effect the ocean divergence exceeds the loss terms. The intrinsic scale of the atmosphere relative to the basin width is important. For sustainable oscillations, the ocean basin must be large enough so that oppositely directed divergence can develop on opposite sides of the basin. The global aspect of the atmospheric pressure field suggests that continental heating may provide either a direct source affecting adjacent oceans, or a connection between oceans. The important model parameters are the coupling and warming coefficients and the ocean Kelvin wave speed. The importance of the Kelvin wave speed derives from its specification of the background buoyancy state for the ocean. Upon further simplification, an analytical solution gives similar parameter dependence as found numerically and shows that growth requires both large zonal wavelength and a zonal phase lag between the anomalies of wind stress and SST.

Abstract

A linear perturbation, coupled ocean–atmosphere model is revisited for further insights into the El Niño–Southern Oscillation phenomenon. The model oscillates as a slow, eastward propagating mode interpreted as a divergence mode, whose energetics are controlled by the ocean. Growth requires that the work performed by the wind stress minus the work required to effect the ocean divergence exceeds the loss terms. The intrinsic scale of the atmosphere relative to the basin width is important. For sustainable oscillations, the ocean basin must be large enough so that oppositely directed divergence can develop on opposite sides of the basin. The global aspect of the atmospheric pressure field suggests that continental heating may provide either a direct source affecting adjacent oceans, or a connection between oceans. The important model parameters are the coupling and warming coefficients and the ocean Kelvin wave speed. The importance of the Kelvin wave speed derives from its specification of the background buoyancy state for the ocean. Upon further simplification, an analytical solution gives similar parameter dependence as found numerically and shows that growth requires both large zonal wavelength and a zonal phase lag between the anomalies of wind stress and SST.

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