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Michael J. McPhaden

Abstract

The equatorial subsurface countercurrents (SSCC are strong, steady, geostrophically balanced eastward flows situated below the high speed core of the Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC) at ∼3–5°N and S. The dynamics of these currents are explored using a continuously stratified, vertically diffusive, linear, steady state ocean model forced by zonal winds with effectively no wind stress curl. Model results agree favorably with observations in that both EUC- and SSCC-like structures are generated.

A diagnosis of the model momentum, vorticity and continuity balances at various depths and latitudes reveals that the SSCC lie outside a vertically diffusive equatorial momentum boundary layer so that both components of velocity are geostrophically balanced. They are, however, located at the poleward of a broader diffusive equatorial vorticity boundary layer. Within this boundary layer, cyclonic vorticity associated with the EUC diffuses to the level of the SSCC where it is balanced by poleward advection of planetary vorticity. Outside this boundary layer, the induced planetary vorticity advection is balanced by vortex stretching that weakens the temperature stratification to generate a thermostad-like structure. The SSCC are in turn geostrophically balanced by the meridional pressure gradients associated with this structure.

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Michael J. McPhaden

Abstract

Two linearized, vertically diffusive steady-state models are formulated on an equatorial β-plane. The purpose is (a) to investigate the vertical boundary-layer structure in a continuously stratified ocean spanning the equator and (b) to test the sensitivity of the results to different turbulence parameterizations. Both models are analytically tractable in a horizontally unbounded basin. One is characterized by Newtonian cooling, the other has biharmonic friction. For either model, the equations are analogous to the well-known equations governing equatorial wave motion. This analogy is exploited in both obtaining and interpreting the solutions.

In both models, zonal wind forcing leads to features such as the Equatorial Undercurrent, South Equatorial Current and Equatorial Intermediate Current. Structures resembling the recently discovered subsurface countercurrents are also generated. The depth, velocity and other scales are model dependent but the basic dynamics are not. Specifically, near the equator, Ekman layers are well behaved due to the presence of baroclinic meridional pressure gradients while zonal flow below the equatorial Ekman layer is geostrophic and vertically diffusive.

The response to a zonally varying sea surface temperature anomaly is two orders of magnitude stronger in the equatorial ocean than at higher latitudes. Moreover, near the equator, the thermally forced solution is comparable in both magnitude and spatial structure to the wind-forced solution. This suggests an important role for the surface mixed layer in determining subsurface equatorial flow patterns.

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Michael J. McPhaden

An El Niño of moderate intensity developed in the tropical Pacific in 2002/03. This event, though not as strong as the 1997/98 El Niño, had significant impacts on patterns of weather variability worldwide. The evolution of the 2002/03 El Niño is documented through comprehensive satellite and in situ observations from the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Observing System. These observations underscore the importance of both episodic atmospheric forcing and large-scale low-frequency ocean–atmosphere interactions in the development of the event.

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Michael J. McPhaden
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Michael J. McPhaden

Abstract

The purpose of this study is to document the zonal evolution of processes affecting sea surface temperature (SST) variability on intraseasonal timescales in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Data primarily from the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) array of moored buoys are used, focusing on four sites along the equator with decade-long time series. These sites are located in the western Pacific warm pool (165°E), the eastern Pacific equatorial cold tongue (110° and 140°W), and the transition zone between these two regions (170°W). Results indicate that SST variability on intraseasonal timescales is most significantly influenced by local surface heat fluxes in the western Pacific (165°E), zonal advection in the central Pacific (170°W), and vertical advection and entrainment in the eastern Pacific (110° and 140°W). East of the date line, oceanic equatorial Kelvin waves strongly mediate dynamical processes controlling intraseasonal SSTs variations, while surface fluxes tend to damp these dynamically generated SSTs at a rate of about 20 W m−2 °C−1. The details of coupling between Kelvin wave dynamics and mixed layer processes make for complicated SST phasing along the equator. While thermocline temperatures propagate eastward at Kelvin wave speeds in the central and eastern Pacific, SSTs can develop in phase over thousands of kilometers, or may even appear to propagate westward. Implications of these results for understanding the dynamical connection between intraseasonal and interannual variability are discussed.

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Motoki Nagura and Michael J. McPhaden

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Zonal propagation of zonal velocity along the equator in the Indian Ocean and its relationship with wind forcing are investigated with a focus on seasonal time scales using in situ observations from four acoustic Doppler current profilers (ADCPs) and an ocean reanalysis dataset. The results show that the zonal phase speed of zonal currents varies depending on season and depth in a very complicated way in relation to surface wind forcing. Surface layer zonal velocity propagates to the west in northern spring but to the east in fall in response to zonally propagating surface zonal winds, while in the pycnocline zonal phase speed is related to wind-forced ocean wave dynamics. In the western half of the analysis domain (78°–83°E), zonal phase speed in the pycnocline is eastward all year, which is attributed to the radiation of Kelvin waves forced in the western basin. In the eastern half of the domain (80°–90°E), zonal phase speed is westward at 50- to 100-m depths in northern fall, but eastward above and below, most likely due to Rossby waves generated at the eastern boundary.

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Xuebin Zhang and Michael J. McPhaden

Abstract

Previous studies have described the impacts of wind stress variations in the eastern Pacific on sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies associated with the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon. However, these studies have usually focused on individual El Niño events and typically have not considered impacts on La Niña—the cold phase of the ENSO cycle. This paper examines effects of wind stress and heat flux forcing on interannual SST variations in the eastern equatorial Pacific from sensitivity tests using an ocean general circulation model over the period 1980–2002. Results indicate that in the Niño-3 region (5°N–5°S, 90°–150°W) a zonal wind stress anomaly of 0.01 N m−2 leads to about 1°C SST anomaly and that air–sea heat fluxes tend to damp interannual SST anomalies generated by other physical processes at a rate of about 40 W m−2 (°C)−1. These results systematically quantify expectations from previous event specific numerical model studies that local forcing in the eastern Pacific can significantly affect the evolution of both warm and cold phases of the ENSO cycle. The results are also consistent with a strictly empirical analysis that indicates that a wind stress anomaly of 0.01 N m−2 leads to ∼1°C SST anomaly in the Niño-3 region.

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Xuebin Zhang and Michael J. McPhaden

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The authors use a new and novel heat balance formalism for the upper 50 m of the Niño-3 region (5°N–5°S, 90°–150°W) to investigate the oceanographic processes underlying interannual sea surface temperature (SST) variations in the eastern equatorial Pacific. The focus is on a better understanding of the relationship between local and remote atmospheric forcing in generating SST anomalies associated with El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events. The heat balance analysis indicates that heat advection across 50-m depth and across 150°W are the important oceanic mechanisms responsible for temperature variations with the former being dominant. On the other hand, net surface heat flux adjusted for penetrative radiation damps SST. Jointly, these processes can explain most of interannual variations in temperature tendency averaged over the Niño-3 region. Decomposition of vertical advection across the bottom indicates that the mean seasonal advection of anomalous temperature (the so-called thermocline feedback) dominates and is highly correlated with 20°C isotherm depth variations, which are mainly forced by remote winds in the western and central equatorial Pacific. Temperature advection by anomalous vertical velocity (the “Ekman feedback”), which is highly correlated with local zonal wind stress variations, is smaller with an amplitude of about 40% on average of remotely forced vertical heat advection. These results support those of recent empirical and modeling studies in which local atmospheric forcing, while not dominant, significantly affects ENSO SST variations in the eastern equatorial Pacific.

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Lu Dong and Michael J. McPhaden

Abstract

Both the Indian and Pacific Oceans exhibit prominent decadal time scale variations in sea surface temperature (SST), linked dynamically via atmospheric and oceanic processes. However, the relationship between SST in these two basins underwent a dramatic transformation beginning around 1985. Prior to that, SST variations associated with the Indian Ocean basin mode (IOB) and the interdecadal Pacific oscillation (IPO) were positively correlated, whereas afterward they were much less clearly synchronized. Evidence is presented from both observations and coupled state-of-the-art climate models that enhanced external forcing, particularly from increased anthropogenic greenhouse gases, was the principal cause of this changed relationship. Using coupled climate model experiments, it is shown that without external forcing, the evolution of the IOB would be strongly forced by variations in the IPO. However, with strong external forcing, the dynamical linkage between the IOB and the IPO weakens so that the negative phase IPO after 2000 is unable to force a negative phase IOB-induced cooling of the Indian Ocean. This changed relationship in the IOB and IPO led to unique SST patterns in the Indo-Pacific region after 2000, which favored exceptionally strong easterly trade winds over the tropical Pacific Ocean and a pronounced global warming hiatus in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

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Lu Dong and Michael J. McPhaden

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Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) have been rising for decades in the Indian Ocean in response to greenhouse gas forcing. However, this study shows that during the recent hiatus in global warming, a striking interhemispheric gradient in Indian Ocean SST trends developed around 2000, with relatively weak or little warming to the north of 10°S and accelerated warming to the south of 10°S. Evidence is presented from a wide variety of data sources showing that this interhemispheric gradient in SST trends is forced primarily by an increase of Indonesian Throughflow (ITF) transport from the Pacific into the Indian Ocean induced by stronger Pacific trade winds. This increased transport led to a depression of the thermocline that facilitated SST warming, presumably through a reduction in the vertical turbulent transport of heat in the southern Indian Ocean. Surface wind changes in the Indian Ocean linked to the enhanced Walker circulation also may have contributed to thermocline depth variations and associated SST changes, with downwelling-favorable wind stress curls between 10° and 20°S and upwelling-favorable wind stress curls between the equator and 10°S. In addition, the anomalous southwesterly wind stresses off the coast of Somalia favored intensified coastal upwelling and offshore advection of upwelled water, which would have led to reduced warming of the northern Indian Ocean. Although highly uncertain, lateral heat advection associated with the ITF and surface heat fluxes may also have played a role in forming the interhemispheric SST gradient change.

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