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James A. Carton and Anthony Santorelli

Abstract

This paper examines nine analyses of global ocean 0-/700-m temperature and heat content during the 43-yr period of warming, 1960–2002. Among the analyses are two that are independent of any numerical model, six that rely on sequential data assimilation, including an ocean general circulation model, and one that uses four-dimensional variational data assimilation (4DVAR), including an ocean general circulation model and its adjoint. Most analyses show gradual warming of the global ocean with an ensemble trend of 0.77 × 108 J m−2 (10 yr)−1 (=0.24 W m−2) as the result of rapid warming in the early 1970s and again beginning around 1990. One proposed explanation for these variations is the effect of volcanic eruptions in 1963 and 1982. Examination of this hypothesis suggests that while there is an oceanic signal, it is insufficient to explain the observed heat content variations.

A second potential cause of decadal variations in global heat content is the uncorrelated contribution of heat content variations in individual ocean basins. The subtropical North Atlantic is warming at twice the global average, with accelerated warming in the 1960s and again beginning in the late 1980s and extending through the end of the record. The Barents Sea region of the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico have also warmed, while the western subpolar North Atlantic has cooled. Heat content variability in the North Pacific differs significantly from the North Atlantic. There the spatial and temporal patterns are consistent with the decadal variability previously identified through observational and modeling studies examining SST and surface winds. In the Southern Hemisphere large heat content anomalies are evident, and while there is substantial disagreement among analyses on average the band of latitudes at 30°–60°S contribute significantly to the global warming trend. Thus, the uncorrelated contributions of heat content variations in the individual basins are a major contributor to global heat content variations.

A third potential contributor to global heat content variations is the effect of time-dependent bias in the set of historical observations. This last possibility is examined by comparing the analyses to the unbiased salinity–temperature–depth dataset and finding a very substantial warm bias in all analyses in the 1970s relative to the latter decades. This warm bias may well explain the rapid increase in analysis heat content in the early 1970s, but not the more recent increase, which began in the early 1990s.

Finally, this study provides information about the similarities and differences between analyses that are independent of a model and those that use sequential assimilation and 4DVAR. The comparisons provide considerable encouragement for the use of the sequential analyses for climate research despite the presence of erroneous variability (also present in the no-model analyses) resulting from instrument bias. The strengths and weaknesses of each analysis need to be considered for a given application.

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Jiande Wang and James A. Carton

Abstract

Climate variability in the tropical Atlantic sector as represented in six atmospheric general circulation models is examined. On the annual mean, most simulations overestimate wind stress away from the equator although much of the variability can be accounted for by differences in drag formulations. Most models produce excessive latent heat flux as a consequence of errors in boundary layer humidity. Systematic errors are also evident in precipitation and surface wind divergence fields. The seasonal cycle of the zonal trade winds is stronger than observed in most simulations, while the meridional component is well represented.

Next interannual variability is considered, focusing on two tropical patterns (Atlantic Niño and interhemispheric modes). The directions of the surface wind anomalies in the models are found to be generally similar to observations, although the magnitude of the wind stress response varies greatly among models. However, all models fail to reproduce the wind–latent heat feedback believed to be essential to interannual variability in this basin.

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Jung-Moon Yoo and James A. Carton

Abstract

We develop a Spatially dependent formula to estimate rainfall from satellite-derived outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) data and the height of the base of the trade-wind inversion. This formula has been constructed by comparing rainfall records from twelve islands in the tropical Atlantic with 11 years of OLR data. Zonal asymmetries due to the differing cloud types in the eastern and western Atlantic and the presence of Saharan sand in the cast are included.

The climatological winter and summer rainfall derived from the above formula concurs with ship observations described by Dorman and Bourke. However, during the spring and fall, OLR-derived rainfall is higher than observations by 2–4 mm day−1 in the intertropical convergence zone. The largest discrepancy occurs during the fall in the region west of 28°W. Interannual anomalies of rainfall computed using this technique are large enough to cause potentially important changes in ocean surface salinity.

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Benjamin S. Giese and James A. Carton

Abstract

Forty-four years of mechanical and expendable bathythermograph observations are assimilated into a general circulation model of the Pacific Ocean. The model is run from 1950 through 1993 with forcing at the surface from observed monthly mean wind stress and temperature. The resulting analysis is used to describe the spatial and temporal patterns of variability at interannual and decadal periods. Interannual variability has its largest surface temperature expression in the Tropics and decadal variability has its largest surface temperature expression in the midlatitude Pacific. However, there are important interannual surface temperature changes that occur in the midlatitude Pacific and there are important decadal surface temperature changes in the Tropics.

An empirical orthogonal function (EOF) analysis of model data that has been bandpass filtered to retain energy at periods of 1–5 yr and at periods greater than 5 yr is presented. The results suggest that interannual variability is dominated by a positive feedback mechanism in the Tropics and a negative feedback mechanism in the midlatitude ocean, resulting in larger anomalies in the Tropics. A second EOF analysis of model data that has been low-pass filtered to retain periods greater than 5 yr reveals patterns of wind and surface temperature anomalies that have strikingly similar structure to the interannual patterns; however, the sequencing between the first and second EOFs is different. Even though there are large decadal anomalies of wind stress in the Tropics, the largest anomalies of surface temperature and ocean heat content occur at mid- and high latitudes. The EOF analysis indicates that decadal variability has a positive feedback mechanism that operates in the midlatitude ocean and a negative feedback mechanism that operates in the Tropics, so that the largest temperature anomalies are in midlatitudes. Previous studies have cited the contribution of heat flux anomalies as the primary cause of decadal surface temperature anomalies. These model studies indicate that meridional advection of heat is at least as important. The timing of interannual and decadal changes in the atmosphere and in the ocean suggests that the atmosphere plays an important role connecting these phenomena. One interpretation of the results is that interannual and decadal variability are manifestations of the same climate phenomena but have crucially different feedback mechanisms.

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Martina Ricko, James A. Carton, and Charon Birkett

Abstract

The availability of satellite estimates of rainfall and lake levels offers exciting new opportunities to estimate the hydrologic properties of lake systems. Combined with simple basin models, connections to climatic variations can then be explored with a focus on a future ability to predict changes in storage volume for water resources or natural hazards concerns. This study examines the capability of a simple basin model to estimate variations in water level for 12 tropical lakes and reservoirs during a 16-yr remotely sensed observation period (1992–2007). The model is constructed with two empirical parameters: effective catchment to lake area ratio and time delay between freshwater flux and lake level response. Rainfall datasets, one reanalysis and two satellite-based observational products, and two radar-altimetry-derived lake level datasets are explored and cross checked. Good agreement is observed between the two lake level datasets with the lowest correlations occurring for the two small lakes Kainji and Tana (0.87 and 0.89). Fitting observations to the simple basin model provides a set of delay times between rainfall and level rise ranging up to 105 days and effective catchment to lake ratios ranging between 2 and 27. For 9 of 12 lakes and reservoirs the observational rainfall products provide a better fit to observed lake levels than the reanalysis rainfall product. But for most of the records any of the rainfall products provide reasonable lake level estimates, a result which opens up the possibility of using rainfall to create seasonal forecasts of future lake levels and hindcasts of past lake levels. The limitations of the observation sets and the two-parameter model are discussed.

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Benjamin S. Giese and James A. Carton

Abstract

A coupled ocean-atmosphere model is used to investigate the seasonal cycle of sea surface temperature and wind stress in the Tropics. A control run is presented that gives a realistic annual cycle with a cold tongue in the eastern Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. In an attempt to isolate the mechanisms responsible for the particular annual cycle that is observed, the authors conducted a series of numerical experiments in which they alter the solar forcing. These experiments include changing the longitude of perihelion, increasing the heat capacity of land, and changing the length of the solar year. The results demonstrate that the date of perihelion and land heating do not, by themselves control the annual cycle. However, there is a natural timescale for the development of the annual cycle. When the solar year is shortened to just 6 months, the seasonal variations of climate remain similar in timing to the control run except that they are weaker. When the solar year is lengthened to 18 months, surface temperature in the eastern Pacific develops a prominent semiannual cycle. The semiannual cycle results from the ITCZ crossing the equator into the Southern Hemisphere and the development of a Northern Hemisphere cold tongue during northern winter. The meridional winds maintain an annual cycle, while the zonal winds have a semiannual component. The Atlantic maintains an annual cycle in all variables regardless of changes in the length of the solar year. A final experiment addresses the factors determining the season in which upwelling occurs. In this experiment the sun is maintained perpetually over the equator (simulating March or September conditions). In this case the atmosphere and ocean move toward September conditions, with a Southern Hemisphere cold tongue and convection north of the equator.

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Semyon A. Grodsky and James A. Carton

Abstract

Recent observations from the QuikSCAT and Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellites, as well as a longer record of Special Sensor Microwave Imager winds are used to investigate the existence and dynamics of a Southern Hemisphere partner to the intertropical convergence zone in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. The southern intertropical convergence zone extends eastward from the coast of Brazil in the latitude band 10°–3°S and is associated with seasonal precipitation exceeding 6 cm month−1 during peak months over a part of the ocean characterized by high surface salinity. It appears in austral winter when cool equatorial upwelling causes an anomalous northeastward pressure gradient to develop in the planetary boundary layer close to the equator. The result is a zonal band of surface wind convergence that exceeds 10−6 s−1, with rainfall stronger than 2 mm day−1, and an associated decrease in ocean surface salinity of 0.2 parts per thousand.

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Hailong Liu, Semyon A. Grodsky, and James A. Carton

Abstract

A monthly gridded analysis of barrier-layer and compensated-layer width based on observed vertical profiles of temperature and salinity and covering the period 1960–2007 is explored for evidence of subseasonal variability and its causes. In the subtropics and midlatitudes this variability is mostly evident during the local cold season when barrier layers and compensated layers are present. There is significant variability of anomalous (nonseasonal) barrier-layer and compensated-layer width on interannual periods, while in the North Pacific longer-term changes are also detectable. In the winter North Pacific a salinity-stratified barrier layer exists at subpolar latitudes. Farther south along the Kuroshio Extension a compensated layer exists. The width of the barrier layer varies from year to year by up to 60 m while compensated-layer width varies by half as much. During the observation period the barrier-layer width decreased in response to a strengthening of the Aleutian low pressure system, the resulting strengthening of dry northerly winds, and a decrease of precipitation. In contrast, the compensated-layer width increased in response to this pressure system strengthening and related amplification of the midlatitude westerly winds, the resulting increase of net surface heat loss, and its effect on the temperature and salinity of the upper-ocean water masses. The tropical Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans all have permanent barrier layers. Their interannual variability is less than 20 m but is comparable in magnitude to the time mean barrier-layer width in these areas. In the tropical Pacific west of 160°E and in the eastern tropical Indian Ocean, the barrier-layer width changes by approximately 5 m in response to a 10-unit change in the Southern Oscillation index. It thickens during La Niñas as a result of the presence of abundant rainfall and thins during dry El Niños. Interannual variations of barrier-layer width in the equatorial Pacific are weak east of 160°E with an exception of the area surrounding the eastern edge of the warm pool. Here subduction of salty water contributes to locally stronger variations of barrier-layer width.

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Ching-Yee Chang, Sumant Nigam, and James A. Carton

Abstract

This study makes the case that westerly bias in the surface winds of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Community Atmosphere Model, version 3 (CAM3), over the equatorial Atlantic in boreal spring has its origin in the rainfall (diabatic heating) bias over the tropical South American continent. The case is made by examination of the spatiotemporal evolution of regional precipitation and wind biases and by dynamical diagnoses of the westerly wind bias from experiments with a steady, linearized dynamical core of an atmospheric general circulation model. Diagnostic modeling indicates that underestimating rainfall over the eastern Amazon region can lead to the westerly bias in equatorial Atlantic surface winds.

The study suggests that efforts to reduce coupled model biases, especially seasonal ones, must target continental biases, even in the deep tropics where ocean–atmosphere interaction generally rules.

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James A. Carton, Semyon A. Grodsky, and Hailong Liu

Abstract

A new monthly uniformly gridded analysis of mixed layer properties based on the World Ocean Atlas 2005 global ocean dataset is used to examine interannual and longer changes in mixed layer properties during the 45-yr period 1960–2004. The analysis reveals substantial variability in the winter–spring depth of the mixed layer in the subtropics and midlatitudes. In the North Pacific an empirical orthogonal function analysis shows a pattern of mixed layer depth variability peaking in the central subtropics. This pattern occurs coincident with intensification of local surface winds and may be responsible for the SST changes associated with the Pacific decadal oscillation. Years with deep winter–spring mixed layers coincide with years in which winter–spring SST is low. In the North Atlantic a pattern of winter–spring mixed layer depth variability occurs that is not so obviously connected to local changes in winds or SST, suggesting that other processes such as advection are more important. Interestingly, at decadal periods the winter–spring mixed layers of both basins show trends, deepening by 10–40 m over the 45-yr period of this analysis. The long-term mixed layer deepening is even stronger (50–100 m) in the North Atlantic subpolar gyre. At tropical latitudes the boreal winter mixed layer varies in phase with the Southern Oscillation index, deepening in the eastern Pacific and shallowing in the western Pacific and eastern Indian Oceans during El Niños. In boreal summer the mixed layer in the Arabian Sea region of the western Indian Ocean varies in response to changes in the strength of the southwest monsoon.

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