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Gregory R. Foltz
,
Claudia Schmid
, and
Rick Lumpkin

Abstract

The seasonal cycle of the mixed layer heat budget in the northeastern tropical Atlantic (0°–25°N, 18°–28°W) is quantified using in situ and satellite measurements together with atmospheric reanalysis products. This region is characterized by pronounced latitudinal movements of the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) and strong meridional variations of the terms in the heat budget. Three distinct regimes within the northeastern tropical Atlantic are identified. The trade wind region (15°–25°N) experiences a strong annual cycle of mixed layer heat content that is driven by approximately out-of-phase annual cycles of surface shortwave radiation (SWR), which peaks in boreal summer, and evaporative cooling, which reaches a minimum in boreal summer. The surface heat-flux-induced changes in the mixed layer heat content are damped by a strong annual cycle of cooling from vertical turbulent mixing, estimated from the residual in the heat balance. In the ITCZ core region (3°–8°N) a weak seasonal cycle of mixed layer heat content is driven by a semiannual cycle of SWR and damped by evaporative cooling and vertical turbulent mixing. On the equator the seasonal cycle of mixed layer heat content is balanced by an annual cycle of SWR that reaches a maximum in October and a semiannual cycle of turbulent mixing that cools the mixed layer most strongly during May–July and November. These results emphasize the importance of the surface heat flux and vertical turbulent mixing for the seasonal cycle of mixed layer heat content in the northeastern tropical Atlantic.

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Gregory R. Foltz
,
Karthik Balaguru
, and
Samson Hagos

ABSTRACT

Sea surface temperature (SST) is one of the most important parameters for tropical cyclone (TC) intensification. Here, it is shown that the relationship between SST and TC intensification varies considerably from basin to basin, with SST explaining less than 4% of the variance in TC intensification rates in the Atlantic, 12% in the western North Pacific, and 23% in the eastern Pacific. Several factors are shown to be responsible for these interbasin differences. First, variability of SST along TCs’ tracks is lower in the Atlantic. This is due to smaller horizontal SST gradients in the Atlantic, compared to the Pacific, and stronger damping of prestorm SST’s contribution to TC intensification by the storm-induced cold SST wake in the Atlantic. The damping occurs because SST tends to vary in phase with TC-induced SST cooling: in the Gulf of Mexico and northwestern Atlantic, where SSTs are highest, TCs tend to be strongest and their translations slowest, resulting in the strongest storm-induced cooling. The tendency for TCs to be more intense over the warmest SST in the Atlantic also limits the usefulness of SST as a predictor since stronger storms are less likely to experience intensification. Finally, SST tends to vary out of phase with vertical wind shear and outflow temperature in the western Pacific. This strengthens the relationship between SST and TC intensification more in the western Pacific than in the eastern Pacific or Atlantic. Combined, these factors explain why prestorm SST is such a poor predictor of TC intensification in the Atlantic, compared to the eastern and western North Pacific.

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Gregory R. Foltz
,
Claudia Schmid
, and
Rick Lumpkin

Abstract

The transport of low-salinity water northward in the tropical and subtropical North Atlantic Ocean influences upper-ocean stratification, vertical mixing, and sea surface temperature (SST). In this study, satellite and in situ observations are used to trace low-salinity water northward from its source in the equatorial Atlantic and to examine its modification through air–sea fluxes and vertical mixing. In contrast to gridded climatologies, which depict a gradual northward dispersal of surface freshwater from the equatorial Atlantic, satellite observations and direct measurements from four moorings in the central tropical North Atlantic show a distinct band of surface freshwater moving northward from the equatorial Atlantic during boreal fall through spring, with drops in sea surface salinity (SSS) of 0.5–2.5 psu in the span of one to two weeks as the low SSS front passes. The ultimate low-latitude source of the low SSS water is found to be primarily Amazon River discharge west of 40°W and rainfall to the east. As the low-salinity water moves northward between 8° and 20°N during October–April, 70% of its freshwater in the upper 20 m is lost to the combination of evaporation, horizontal eddy diffusion, and vertical turbulent mixing, with an implied rate of SSS damping that is half of that for SST. During 1998–2012, interannual variations in SSS along 38°W are found to be negatively correlated with the strength of northward surface currents. The importance of ocean circulation for interannual variations of SSS and the small damping time scale for SSS emphasize the need to consider meridional freshwater advection when interpreting SSS variability in the tropical–subtropical North Atlantic.

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Gregory R. Foltz
and
Michael J. McPhaden

Abstract

Recent observations have shown evidence of intraseasonal oscillations (with periods of approximately 1–2 months) in the northern and southern tropical Atlantic trade winds. In this paper, the oceanic response to the observed intraseasonal wind variability is addressed through an analysis of the surface mixed layer heat balance, focusing on three locations in the northwestern tropical Atlantic where in situ measurements from moored buoys are available (14.5°N, 51°W; 15°N, 38°W; and 18°N, 34°W). It is found that local heat storage at all three locations is balanced primarily by wind-induced latent heat loss, which is the same mechanism that is believed to play a dominant role on interannual and decadal time scales in the region. It is also found that the intraseasonal wind speed oscillations are linked to changes in surface wind convergence and convection over the western equatorial Atlantic warm pool. These atmospheric circulation anomalies and wind-induced SST anomalies potentially feed back on one another to affect longer time-scale variability in the region.

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Gregory R. Foltz
and
Michael J. McPhaden

Abstract

A combination of satellite and in situ datasets is used to investigate the impact of interannual changes in atmospheric dust content on the sea surface temperature (SST) of the tropical North Atlantic Ocean. Throughout most of the region the authors find, in agreement with previous studies, that positive anomalies of dust are associated with a significant reduction in surface shortwave radiation (SWR), while negative anomalies of dust are associated with an enhancement of SWR. Statistical analysis for 1984–2000 suggests that changes in dustiness in the tropical North Atlantic (10°–25°N, 20°–60°W) explained approximately 35% of the observed interannual SST variability during boreal summer, when climatological dust concentrations are highest. Measurements from a long-term moored buoy in the central tropical North Atlantic are used to investigate the causes of anomalously cool SST that occurred in conjunction with a period of enhanced dustiness at the start of the unexpectedly quiet 2006 hurricane season. It is found that surface SWR varied out of phase with dustiness, consistent with historical analyses. However, most of the anomalous cooling occurred prior to the period of enhanced dustiness and was driven primarily by wind-induced latent heat loss, with horizontal oceanic heat advection and SWR playing secondary roles. These results indicate that dust-induced changes in SWR did not play a major direct role in the cooling that led up to the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season.

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Gregory R. Foltz
and
Michael J. McPhaden

Abstract

Measurements from three long-term moored buoys are used to investigate the impact of barrier layer thickness (BLT) on the seasonal cycle of sea surface temperature (SST) in the central tropical North Atlantic Ocean. It is found that seasonal variations of the BLT exert a considerable influence on SST through their modulation of the vertical heat flux at the base of the mixed layer, estimated as the residual in the mixed layer heat balance. Cooling associated with this term is strongest when the barrier layer is thin and the vertical temperature gradient at the base of the mixed layer is strong. Conversely, thick barrier layers are associated with a significant reduction in the vertical temperature gradient at the base of the mixed layer, which suppresses the upward transfer of cooler water into the mixed layer. Forced ocean and coupled ocean–atmosphere models that do not properly simulate the barrier layer may have difficulty reproducing the observed seasonal cycle of SST in the tropical North Atlantic.

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Gregory R. Foltz
,
Claudia Schmid
, and
Rick Lumpkin

Abstract

The Prediction and Research Moored Array in the Tropical Atlantic (PIRATA) provides measurements of the upper ocean and near-surface atmosphere at 18 locations. Time series from many moorings are nearly 20 years in length. However, instrumental biases, data dropouts, and the coarse vertical resolutions of the oceanic measurements complicate their use for research. Here an enhanced PIRATA dataset (ePIRATA) is presented for the 17 PIRATA moorings with record lengths of at least seven years. Data in ePIRATA are corrected for instrumental biases, temporal gaps are filled using supplementary datasets, and the subsurface temperature and salinity time series are mapped to a uniform 5-m vertical grid. All original PIRATA data that pass quality control and that do not require bias correction are retained without modification, and detailed error estimates are provided. The terms in the mixed-layer heat and temperature budgets are calculated and included, with error bars. As an example of ePIRATA’s application, the vertical exchange of heat at the base of the mixed layer (Q h ) is calculated at each PIRATA location as the difference between the heat storage rate and the sum of the net surface heat flux and horizontal advection. Off-equatorial locations are found to have annual mean cooling rates of 20–60 W m−2, while cooling at equatorial locations reaches 85–110 W m−2 between 10° and 35°W and decreases to 40 W m−2 at 0°. At most off-equatorial locations, the strongest seasonal cooling from Q h occurs when winds are weak. Possible explanations are discussed, including the importance of seasonal modulations of mixed-layer depth and the diurnal cycle.

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Gregory R. Foltz
and
Michael J. McPhaden

Abstract

The role of horizontal oceanic heat advection in the generation of tropical North and South Atlantic sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies is investigated through an analysis of the oceanic mixed layer heat balance. It is found that SST anomalies poleward of 10° are driven primarily by a combination of wind-induced latent heat loss and shortwave radiation. Away from the eastern boundary, horizontal advection damps surface flux–forced SST anomalies due to a combination of mean meridional Ekman currents acting on anomalous meridional SST gradients, and anomalous meridional currents acting on the mean meridional SST gradient. Horizontal advection is likely to have the most significant effect on the interhemispheric SST gradient mode through its impact in the 10°–20° latitude bands of each hemisphere, where the variability in advection is strongest and its negative correlation with the surface heat flux is highest. In addition to the damping effect of horizontal advection in these latitude bands, evidence for coupled wind–SST feedbacks is found, with anomalous equatorward (poleward) SST gradients contributing to enhanced (reduced) westward surface winds and an equatorward propagation of SST anomalies.

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Amato T. Evan
,
Gregory R. Foltz
, and
Dongxiao Zhang

Abstract

Dust storms are a persistent feature of the tropical North Atlantic and vary over a wide range of temporal scales. While it is well known that mineral aerosols alter the local radiative fluxes, far less is understood about the oceanic response to such forced changes to the radiative budget, particularly on long time scales. This study uses an observation-based climatology of dust surface forcing and an ocean general circulation model to examine the influence of anomalous atmospheric dust cover over the tropical North Atlantic on upper ocean temperature and circulation during 1955–2008. It is found that surface temperature anomalies from the model experiments are forced primarily by local radiation-induced changes to the surface heat budget. The subsurface temperature anomalies are additionally influenced by upper ocean circulation anomalies, which are the response to dust-forced steric changes in dynamic height. The results herein suggest that on decadal time scales dust-forced variability of ocean surface and subsurface temperatures are of a magnitude comparable to observed variability. On longer time scales dust-forced sea surface temperature anomalies vary in phase with the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation, implying that tropical North Atlantic multidecadal variability is related to changes in dust emissions from West Africa.

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Allyson Rugg
,
Gregory R. Foltz
, and
Renellys C. Perez

Abstract

This study examines the causes of observed sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the tropical North Atlantic between 1982 and 2015. The emphasis is on the boreal winter and spring seasons, when tropical Atlantic SSTs project strongly onto the Atlantic meridional mode (AMM). Results from a composite analysis of satellite and reanalysis data show important forcing of SST anomalies by wind-driven changes in mixed layer depth and shortwave radiation between 5° and 10°N, in addition to the well-known positive wind–evaporation–SST and shortwave radiation–SST feedbacks between 5° and 20°N. Anomalous surface winds also drive pronounced thermocline depth anomalies of opposite signs in the eastern equatorial Atlantic and intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ; 2°–8°N). A major new finding is that there is strong event-to-event variability in the impact of thermocline depth on SST in the ITCZ region, in contrast to the more consistent relationship in the eastern equatorial Atlantic. Much stronger anomalies of meridional wind stress, thermocline depth, and vertical turbulent cooling are found in the ITCZ region during a negative AMM event in 2009 compared to a negative event in 2015 and a positive event in 2010, despite SST anomalies of similar magnitude in the early stages of each event. The larger anomalies in 2009 led to a much stronger and longer-lived event. Possible causes of the inconsistent relationship between thermocline depth and SST in the ITCZ region are discussed, including the preconditioning role of the winter cross-equatorial SST gradient.

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