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Contributions of Wind Forcing and Surface Heating to Interannual Sea Level Variations in the Atlantic Ocean

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  • 1 Laboratoire de Physique des Océans, Brest, France
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Abstract

Interannual sea surface height variations in the Atlantic Ocean are examined from 10 years of high-precision altimeter data in light of simple mechanisms that describe the ocean response to atmospheric forcing: 1) local steric changes due to surface buoyancy forcing and a local response to wind stress via Ekman pumping and 2) baroclinic and barotropic oceanic adjustment via propagating Rossby waves and quasi-steady Sverdrup balance, respectively. The relevance of these simple mechanisms in explaining interannual sea level variability in the whole Atlantic Ocean is investigated. It is shown that, in various regions, a large part of the interannual sea level variability is related to local response to heat flux changes (more than 50% in the eastern North Atlantic). Except in a few places, a local response to wind stress forcing is less successful in explaining sea surface height observations. In this case, it is necessary to consider large-scale oceanic adjustments: the first baroclinic mode forced by wind stress explains about 70% of interannual sea level variations in the latitude band 18°–20°N. A quasi-steady barotropic Sverdrup response is observed between 40° and 50°N.

Corresponding author address: Cecile Cabanes, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, M/S 300-323, 4800 Oak Grove Dr., Pasadena, CA 91109. Email: ccabanes@pacific.jpl.nasa.gov

Abstract

Interannual sea surface height variations in the Atlantic Ocean are examined from 10 years of high-precision altimeter data in light of simple mechanisms that describe the ocean response to atmospheric forcing: 1) local steric changes due to surface buoyancy forcing and a local response to wind stress via Ekman pumping and 2) baroclinic and barotropic oceanic adjustment via propagating Rossby waves and quasi-steady Sverdrup balance, respectively. The relevance of these simple mechanisms in explaining interannual sea level variability in the whole Atlantic Ocean is investigated. It is shown that, in various regions, a large part of the interannual sea level variability is related to local response to heat flux changes (more than 50% in the eastern North Atlantic). Except in a few places, a local response to wind stress forcing is less successful in explaining sea surface height observations. In this case, it is necessary to consider large-scale oceanic adjustments: the first baroclinic mode forced by wind stress explains about 70% of interannual sea level variations in the latitude band 18°–20°N. A quasi-steady barotropic Sverdrup response is observed between 40° and 50°N.

Corresponding author address: Cecile Cabanes, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, M/S 300-323, 4800 Oak Grove Dr., Pasadena, CA 91109. Email: ccabanes@pacific.jpl.nasa.gov

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