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Weiqing Han, Peter J. Webster, Jia-Lin Lin, W. T. Liu, Rong Fu, Dongliang Yuan, and Aixue Hu


Satellite and in situ observations in the equatorial Atlantic Ocean during 2002–03 show dominant spectral peaks at 40–60 days and secondary peaks at 10–40 days in sea level and thermocline within the intraseasonal period band (10–80 days). A detailed investigation of the dynamics of the intraseasonal variations is carried out using an ocean general circulation model, namely, the Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Model (HYCOM). Two parallel experiments are performed in the tropical Atlantic Ocean basin for the period 2000–03: one is forced by daily scatterometer winds from the Quick Scatterometer (QuikSCAT) satellite together with other forcing fields, and the other is forced by the low-passed 80-day version of the above fields. To help in understanding the role played by the wind-driven equatorial waves, a linear continuously stratified ocean model is also used.

Within 3°S–3°N of the equatorial region, the strong 40–60-day sea surface height anomaly (SSHA) and thermocline variability result mainly from the first and second baroclinic modes equatorial Kelvin waves that are forced by intraseasonal zonal winds, with the second baroclinic mode playing a more important role. Sharp 40–50-day peaks of zonal and meridional winds appear in both the QuikSCAT and Pilot Research Moored Array in the Tropical Atlantic (PIRATA) data for the period 2002–03, and they are especially strong in 2002. Zonal wind anomaly in the central-western equatorial basin for the period 2000–06 is significantly correlated with SSHA across the equatorial basin, with simultaneous/lag correlation ranging from −0.62 to 0.74 above 95% significance. Away from the equator (3°–5°N), however, sea level and thermocline variations in the 40–60-day band are caused largely by tropical instability waves (TIWs).

On 10–40-day time scales and west of 10°W, the spectral power of sea level and thermocline appears to be dominated by TIWs within 5°S–5°N of the equatorial region. The wind-driven circulation, however, also provides a significant contribution. Interestingly, east of 10°W, SSHA and thermocline variations at 10–40-day periods result almost entirely from wind-driven equatorial waves. During the boreal spring of 2002 when TIWs are weak, Kelvin waves dominate the SSHA across the equatorial basin (2°S–2°N). The observed quasi-biweekly Yanai waves are excited mainly by the quasi-biweekly meridional winds, and they contribute significantly to the SSHA and thermocline variations in 1°–5°N and 1°–5°S regions.

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