Pre-existing, oceanic barrier layers have been shown to limit turbulent mixing and suppress mixed layer cooling during the forced stage of a tropical cyclone (TC). Furthermore, an understanding of barrier layer evolution during TC passage is mostly unexplored. High precipitation rates within TCs provide a large freshwater flux to the surface that alters upper-ocean stratification and can act as a potential mechanism to strengthen the barrier layer. Ocean glider observations from the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) indicate that a strong barrier layer developed during the approach and passage of Hurricane Gonzalo (2014), primarily as a result of freshening within the upper 30 m of the ocean. Therefore, an ocean model case study of Hurricane Gonzalo has been designed to investigate how precipitation affects upper-ocean stratification and sea surface temperature (SST) cooling during TC passage.
Ocean model hindcasts of Hurricane Gonzalo characterize the upper-ocean response to TC precipitation forcing. Three different vertical mixing parameterizations are tested to determine their sensitivity to precipitation forcing. For all turbulent mixing schemes, TC precipitation produces near-surface freshening of about 0.3 psu, which is consistent with previous studies and in situ ocean observations. The influence of precipitation-induced changes to the SST response is more complicated, but generally modifies SSTs by ± 0.3 °C. Precipitation forcing creates a dynamical coupling between upper-ocean stratification and current shear that is largely responsible for the heterogeneous response in modeled SSTs.