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The Effects of Wind Forcing and Background Mean Currents on the Latitudinal Structure of Equatorial Rossby Waves

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  • 1 College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon
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Abstract

The latitudinal structure of annual equatorial Rossby waves in the tropical Pacific Ocean based on sea surface height (SSH) and thermocline depth observations is equatorially asymmetric, which differs from the structure of the linear waves of classical theory that are often presumed to dominate the variability. The nature of this asymmetry is such that the northern SSH maximum (along 5.5°N) is roughly 2 times that of the southern maximum (along 6.5°S). In addition, the observed westward phase speeds are roughly 0.5 times the predicted speed of 90 cm s−1 and are also asymmetric with the northern phase speeds, about 25% faster than the southern phase speeds. One hypothesized mechanism for the observed annual equatorial Rossby wave amplitude asymmetry is modification of the meridional structure by the asymmetric meridional shears associated with the equatorial current system. Another hypothesis is the asymmetry of the annually varying wind forcing, which is stronger north of the equator. A reduced-gravity, nonlinear, β-plane model with rectangular basin geometry forced by idealized Quick Scatterometer (QuikSCAT) wind stress is used to test these two mechanisms. The model with an asymmetric background mean current system perturbed with symmetric annually varying winds consistently produces asymmetric Rossby waves with a northern maximum (4.7°N) that is 1.6 times the southern maximum (5.2°S) and westward phase speeds of approximately 53 ± 13 cm s−1 along both latitudes. Simulations with a symmetric background mean current system perturbed by asymmetric annually varying winds fail to produce the observed Rossby wave structure unless the perturbation winds become strong enough for nonlinear interactions to produce asymmetry in the background mean current system. The observed latitudinal asymmetry of the phase speed is found to be critically dependent on the inclusion of realistic coastline boundaries.

Corresponding author address: Renellys C. Perez, College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, 104 Ocean Administration Building, Corvallis, OR 97331. Email: rperez@coas.oregonstate.edu

Abstract

The latitudinal structure of annual equatorial Rossby waves in the tropical Pacific Ocean based on sea surface height (SSH) and thermocline depth observations is equatorially asymmetric, which differs from the structure of the linear waves of classical theory that are often presumed to dominate the variability. The nature of this asymmetry is such that the northern SSH maximum (along 5.5°N) is roughly 2 times that of the southern maximum (along 6.5°S). In addition, the observed westward phase speeds are roughly 0.5 times the predicted speed of 90 cm s−1 and are also asymmetric with the northern phase speeds, about 25% faster than the southern phase speeds. One hypothesized mechanism for the observed annual equatorial Rossby wave amplitude asymmetry is modification of the meridional structure by the asymmetric meridional shears associated with the equatorial current system. Another hypothesis is the asymmetry of the annually varying wind forcing, which is stronger north of the equator. A reduced-gravity, nonlinear, β-plane model with rectangular basin geometry forced by idealized Quick Scatterometer (QuikSCAT) wind stress is used to test these two mechanisms. The model with an asymmetric background mean current system perturbed with symmetric annually varying winds consistently produces asymmetric Rossby waves with a northern maximum (4.7°N) that is 1.6 times the southern maximum (5.2°S) and westward phase speeds of approximately 53 ± 13 cm s−1 along both latitudes. Simulations with a symmetric background mean current system perturbed by asymmetric annually varying winds fail to produce the observed Rossby wave structure unless the perturbation winds become strong enough for nonlinear interactions to produce asymmetry in the background mean current system. The observed latitudinal asymmetry of the phase speed is found to be critically dependent on the inclusion of realistic coastline boundaries.

Corresponding author address: Renellys C. Perez, College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, 104 Ocean Administration Building, Corvallis, OR 97331. Email: rperez@coas.oregonstate.edu

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