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Intraseasonal Variability of the Equatorial Indian Ocean Observed from Sea Surface Height, Wind, and Temperature Data

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  • 1 Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California
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Abstract

The forcing of the equatorial Indian Ocean by the highly periodic monsoon wind cycle creates many interesting intraseasonal variabilities. The frequency spectrum of the wind stress observations from the European Remote Sensing Satellite scatterometers reveals peaks at the seasonal cycle and its higher harmonics at 180, 120, 90, and 75 days. The observations of sea surface height (SSH) from the Jason and Ocean Topography Experiment (TOPEX)/Poseidon radar altimeters are analyzed to study the ocean’s response. The focus of the study is on the intraseasonal periods shorter than the annual period. The semiannual SSH variability is characterized by a basin mode involving Rossby waves and Kelvin waves traveling back and forth in the equatorial Indian Ocean between 10°S and 10°N. However, the interference of these waves with each other masks the appearance of individual Kelvin and Rossby waves, leading to a nodal point (amphidrome) of phase propagation on the equator at the center of the basin. The characteristics of the mode correspond to a resonance of the basin according to theoretical models. For the semiannual period and the size of the basin, the resonance involves the second baroclinic vertical mode of the ocean. The theory also calls for similar modes at 90 and 60 days. These modes are found only in the eastern part of the basin, where the wind forcing at these periods is primarily located. The western parts of the theoretical modal patterns are not observed, probably because of the lack of wind forcing. There is also similar SSH variability at 120 and 75 days. The 120-day variability, with spatial patterns resembling the semiannual mode, is close to a resonance involving the first baroclinic vertical mode. The 75-day variability, although not a resonant basin mode in theory, exhibits properties similar to the 60- and 90-day variabilities with energy confined to the eastern basin, where the SSH variability seems in resonance with the local wind forcing. The time it takes an oceanic signal to travel eastward as Kelvin waves from the forcing location along the equator and back as Rossby waves off the equator roughly corresponds to the period of the wind forcing. The SSH variability at 60–90 days is coherent with sea surface temperature (SST) with a near-zero phase difference, showing the effects of the time-varying thermocline depth on SST, which may affect the wind in an ocean–atmosphere coupled process governing the intraseasonal variability.

Corresponding author address: Lee-Lueng Fu, Jet Propulsion Laboratory 300-323, California Institute of Technology, 4800 Oak Grove Dr., Pasadena, CA 91109. Email: llf@pacific.jpl.nasa.gov

This article included in the In Honor of Carl Wunsch special collection.

Abstract

The forcing of the equatorial Indian Ocean by the highly periodic monsoon wind cycle creates many interesting intraseasonal variabilities. The frequency spectrum of the wind stress observations from the European Remote Sensing Satellite scatterometers reveals peaks at the seasonal cycle and its higher harmonics at 180, 120, 90, and 75 days. The observations of sea surface height (SSH) from the Jason and Ocean Topography Experiment (TOPEX)/Poseidon radar altimeters are analyzed to study the ocean’s response. The focus of the study is on the intraseasonal periods shorter than the annual period. The semiannual SSH variability is characterized by a basin mode involving Rossby waves and Kelvin waves traveling back and forth in the equatorial Indian Ocean between 10°S and 10°N. However, the interference of these waves with each other masks the appearance of individual Kelvin and Rossby waves, leading to a nodal point (amphidrome) of phase propagation on the equator at the center of the basin. The characteristics of the mode correspond to a resonance of the basin according to theoretical models. For the semiannual period and the size of the basin, the resonance involves the second baroclinic vertical mode of the ocean. The theory also calls for similar modes at 90 and 60 days. These modes are found only in the eastern part of the basin, where the wind forcing at these periods is primarily located. The western parts of the theoretical modal patterns are not observed, probably because of the lack of wind forcing. There is also similar SSH variability at 120 and 75 days. The 120-day variability, with spatial patterns resembling the semiannual mode, is close to a resonance involving the first baroclinic vertical mode. The 75-day variability, although not a resonant basin mode in theory, exhibits properties similar to the 60- and 90-day variabilities with energy confined to the eastern basin, where the SSH variability seems in resonance with the local wind forcing. The time it takes an oceanic signal to travel eastward as Kelvin waves from the forcing location along the equator and back as Rossby waves off the equator roughly corresponds to the period of the wind forcing. The SSH variability at 60–90 days is coherent with sea surface temperature (SST) with a near-zero phase difference, showing the effects of the time-varying thermocline depth on SST, which may affect the wind in an ocean–atmosphere coupled process governing the intraseasonal variability.

Corresponding author address: Lee-Lueng Fu, Jet Propulsion Laboratory 300-323, California Institute of Technology, 4800 Oak Grove Dr., Pasadena, CA 91109. Email: llf@pacific.jpl.nasa.gov

This article included in the In Honor of Carl Wunsch special collection.

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