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Meridional Extent and Interannual Variability of the Pacific Ocean Tropical–Subtropical Warm Water Exchange

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  • 1 Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies, University of Miami, Miami, Florida
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Abstract

Altimetric observations of sea surface height anomaly (SSHA) from the TOPEX/Poseidon and ERS satellites, hydrography, and the ECMWF and Florida State University wind products are used to track warm water (≥20°C) as it is exchanged between the equatorial Pacific Ocean and the higher latitudes during 1993–2003. The large El Niño event of 1997–98 resulted in a significant discharge of warm water toward the higher latitudes within the interior of the Pacific Ocean. The exchange of anomalous warm water volume with the Northern Hemisphere appears to be blocked under the intertropical convergence zone, consistent with most current ideas on the time-mean tropical–subtropical exchange. Little of the warm water discharged northward across 5° and 8°N during the 1997–98 El Niño event could be traced as far as 10°N. To the south, however, these anomalous volumes of warm water were visible at least as far as 20°S, primarily in the longitudes around 130°–160°W. In both hemispheres most of the warm water appeared to flow westward before returning to the Tropics during the recharge phase of the El Niño–La Niña cycle. The buildup of warm water in the Tropics before the 1997–98 El Niño is shown to be fed primarily by warm water drawn from the region in the western Pacific within 5°S–15°N. The exchange cycle between the equatorial band and the higher latitudes north of the equator leads the cycle in the south by 6–8 months. These results are found in all three datasets used herein, hydrography, altimetric observations of SSHA, and Sverdrup transports calculated from multiple wind products, which demonstrates the robustness of the results.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Christopher S. Meinen, NOAA/Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, 4301 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, FL 33149. Email: christopher.meinen@noaa.gov

Abstract

Altimetric observations of sea surface height anomaly (SSHA) from the TOPEX/Poseidon and ERS satellites, hydrography, and the ECMWF and Florida State University wind products are used to track warm water (≥20°C) as it is exchanged between the equatorial Pacific Ocean and the higher latitudes during 1993–2003. The large El Niño event of 1997–98 resulted in a significant discharge of warm water toward the higher latitudes within the interior of the Pacific Ocean. The exchange of anomalous warm water volume with the Northern Hemisphere appears to be blocked under the intertropical convergence zone, consistent with most current ideas on the time-mean tropical–subtropical exchange. Little of the warm water discharged northward across 5° and 8°N during the 1997–98 El Niño event could be traced as far as 10°N. To the south, however, these anomalous volumes of warm water were visible at least as far as 20°S, primarily in the longitudes around 130°–160°W. In both hemispheres most of the warm water appeared to flow westward before returning to the Tropics during the recharge phase of the El Niño–La Niña cycle. The buildup of warm water in the Tropics before the 1997–98 El Niño is shown to be fed primarily by warm water drawn from the region in the western Pacific within 5°S–15°N. The exchange cycle between the equatorial band and the higher latitudes north of the equator leads the cycle in the south by 6–8 months. These results are found in all three datasets used herein, hydrography, altimetric observations of SSHA, and Sverdrup transports calculated from multiple wind products, which demonstrates the robustness of the results.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Christopher S. Meinen, NOAA/Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, 4301 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, FL 33149. Email: christopher.meinen@noaa.gov

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