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Sea Surface Temperature Variability along the Path of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current

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  • 1 Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, and MIT–WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
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Abstract

The spatial and temporal distributions of sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) are investigated, using monthly data from the NCEP–NCAR reanalysis for the period 1980–2004. Patterns of atmospheric forcing are identified in observations of sea level pressure and air–sea heat fluxes. It is found that a significant fraction of SST variability in the ACC can be understood as a linear response to surface forcing by the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) and remote forcing by ENSO. The physical mechanisms rely on the interplay between atmospheric variability and mean advection by the ACC. SAM and ENSO drive a low-level anomalous circulation pattern localized over the South Pacific Ocean, inducing surface heat fluxes and Ekman heat advection anomalies. A simple model of SST propagating in the ACC, forced with heat fluxes estimated from the reanalysis, suggests that surface heat fluxes and Ekman heat advection are equally important in driving the observed SST variability. Further diagnostics indicate that SST anomalies, generated mainly upstream of Drake Passage, are subsequently advected by the ACC and damped after a couple of years. It is suggested that SST variability along the path of the ACC is largely a passive response of the oceanic mixed layer to atmospheric forcing.

Corresponding author address: Ariane Verdy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rm. 54-1419, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139. Email: averdy@ocean.mit.edu

Abstract

The spatial and temporal distributions of sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) are investigated, using monthly data from the NCEP–NCAR reanalysis for the period 1980–2004. Patterns of atmospheric forcing are identified in observations of sea level pressure and air–sea heat fluxes. It is found that a significant fraction of SST variability in the ACC can be understood as a linear response to surface forcing by the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) and remote forcing by ENSO. The physical mechanisms rely on the interplay between atmospheric variability and mean advection by the ACC. SAM and ENSO drive a low-level anomalous circulation pattern localized over the South Pacific Ocean, inducing surface heat fluxes and Ekman heat advection anomalies. A simple model of SST propagating in the ACC, forced with heat fluxes estimated from the reanalysis, suggests that surface heat fluxes and Ekman heat advection are equally important in driving the observed SST variability. Further diagnostics indicate that SST anomalies, generated mainly upstream of Drake Passage, are subsequently advected by the ACC and damped after a couple of years. It is suggested that SST variability along the path of the ACC is largely a passive response of the oceanic mixed layer to atmospheric forcing.

Corresponding author address: Ariane Verdy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rm. 54-1419, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139. Email: averdy@ocean.mit.edu

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