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Haiming Xu, Shang-Ping Xie, Yuqing Wang, and R. Justin Small

Abstract

The intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) is displaced to the south edge of the eastern Pacific warm pool in boreal winter, instead of being collocated. A high-resolution regional climate model is used to investigate the mechanism for this displaced ITCZ. Under the observed sea surface temperature (SST) and lateral boundary forcing, the model reproduces the salient features of eastern Pacific climate in winter, including the southward displaced ITCZ and gap wind jets off the Central American coast. As the northeast trades impinge on the mountains of Central America, subsidence prevails off the Pacific coast, pushing the ITCZ southward. Cold SST patches induced by three gap wind jets have additional effects of keeping the ITCZ away from the coast. In an experiment in which both the Central American mountains and their effect on SST are removed, the ITCZ shifts considerably northward to cover much of the eastern Pacific warm pool.

The Central American mountains are considered important to freshwater transport from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, which in turn plays a key role in global ocean thermohaline circulation. The results of this study show that this transport across Central America is not very sensitive to the fine structure of the orography because the increased flow in the mountain gaps in a detailed topography run tends to be compensated for by broader flow in a smoothed topography run. Implications for global climate modeling are discussed.

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Stuart P. Bishop, Frank O. Bryan, and R. Justin Small

Abstract

Observational and model evidence has been mounting that mesoscale eddies play an important role in air–sea interaction in the vicinity of western boundary currents and can affect the jet stream storm track. What is less clear is the interplay between oceanic and atmospheric meridional heat transport in the vicinity of western boundary currents. It is first shown that variability in the North Pacific, particularly in the Kuroshio Extension region, simulated by a high-resolution fully coupled version of the Community Earth System Model matches observations with similar mechanisms and phase relationships involved in the variability. The Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO) is correlated with sea surface height anomalies generated in the central Pacific that propagate west preceding Kuroshio Extension variability with a ~3–4-yr lag. It is then shown that there is a near compensation of O(0.1) PW (PW ≡ 1015 W) between wintertime atmospheric and oceanic meridional heat transport on decadal time scales in the North Pacific. This compensation has characteristics of Bjerknes compensation and is tied to the mesoscale eddy activity in the Kuroshio Extension region.

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Kohei Takatama, Shoshiro Minobe, Masaru Inatsu, and R. Justin Small

Abstract

The mechanisms acting on near-surface winds over the Gulf Stream are diagnosed using 5-yr outputs of a regional atmospheric model. The diagnostics for the surface-layer momentum vector, its curl, and its convergence are developed with a clear separation of pressure adjustment from downward momentum inputs from aloft in the surface-layer system. The results suggest that the downward momentum mixing mechanism plays a dominant role in contributing to the annual-mean climatological momentum curl, whereas the pressure adjustment mechanism plays a minor role. In contrast, the wind convergence is mainly due to the pressure adjustment mechanism. This can be explained by the orientation of background wind to the sea surface temperature front. The diagnostics also explain the relatively strong seasonal variation in surface-layer momentum convergence and the small seasonal variation in curl. Finally, the surface-layer response to other western boundary currents is examined using a reanalysis dataset.

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R. Justin Small, Shang-Ping Xie, and Yuqing Wang

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Tropical instability waves (TIWs) are 1000-km-long waves that appear along the sea surface temperature (SST) front of the equatorial cold tongue in the eastern Pacific. The study investigates the atmospheric planetary boundary layer (PBL) response to TIW-induced SST variations using a high-resolution regional climate model. An investigation is made of the importance of pressure gradients induced by changes in air temperature and moisture, and vertical mixing, which is parameterized in the model by a 1.5-level turbulence closure scheme. Significant turbulent flux anomalies of sensible and latent heat are caused by changes in the air–sea temperature and moisture differences induced by the TIWs. Horizontal advection leads to the occurrence of the air temperature and moisture extrema downwind of the SST extrema. High and low hydrostatic surface pressures are then located downwind of the cold and warm SST patches, respectively. The maximum and minimum wind speeds occur in phase with SST, and a thermally direct circulation is created. The momentum budget indicates that pressure gradient, vertical mixing, and horizontal advection dominate. In the PBL the vertical mixing acts as a frictional drag on the pressure-gradient-driven winds. Over warm SST the mixed layer deepens relative to over cold SST. The model simulations of the phase and amplitude of wind velocity, wind convergence, and column-integrated water vapor perturbations due to TIWs are similar to those observed from satellite and in situ data.

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R. Justin Small, Frank O. Bryan, and Stuart P. Bishop

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The water mass transformation (WMT) framework describes how water of one class, such as a discrete interval of density, is converted into another class via air–sea fluxes or interior mixing processes. This paper investigates how this process is modified at the surface when mesoscale ocean eddies are present, using a state-of-the-art high-resolution climate model with reasonable fidelity in the Southern Ocean. The method employed is to coarse-grain the high-resolution model fields to remove eddy signatures, and compare the results with those from the full model fields. This method shows that eddies reduced the WMT by 2–4 Sv (10%–20%; 1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) over a wide range of densities, from typical values of 20 Sv in the smoothed case. The corresponding water mass formation was reduced by 40% at one particular density increment, namely, between 1026.4 and 1026.5 kg m−3, which corresponds to the lighter end of the range of Indian Ocean Mode Water in the model. The effect of eddies on surface WMT is decomposed into three terms: direct modulation of the density outcrops, then indirectly, by modifying the air–sea density flux, and the combined effect of the two, akin to a covariance. It is found that the first and third terms dominate, i.e., smoothing the outcrops alone has a significant effect, as does the combination of smoothing both outcrops and density flux distributions, but smoothing density flux fields alone has little effect. Results from the coarse-graining method are compared to an alternative approach of temporally averaging the data. Implications for climate model resolution are also discussed.

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R. Justin Small, Shang-Ping Xie, Yuqing Wang, Steven K. Esbensen, and Dean Vickers

Abstract

Recent observations from spaceborne microwave sensors have revealed detailed structure of the surface flow over the equatorial eastern Pacific in the boreal fall season. A marked acceleration of surface wind across the northern sea surface temperature (SST) front of the cold tongue is a prominent feature of the regional climate. Previous studies have attributed the acceleration to the effect of enhanced momentum mixing over the warmer waters. A high-resolution numerical model is used to examine the cross-frontal flow adjustment. In a comprehensive comparison, the model agrees well with many observed features of cross-equatorial flow and boundary layer structure from satellite, Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) moorings, and the recent Eastern Pacific Investigation of Climate Processes (EPIC) campaign. In particular, the model simulates the acceleration across the SST front, and the change from a stable to unstable boundary layer. Analysis of the model momentum budget indicates that the hydrostatic pressure gradient, set up in response to the SST gradient, drives the surface northward acceleration. Because of thermal advection by the mean southerly flow, the pressure gradient is located downstream of the SST gradient and consequently, divergence occurs over the SST front, as observed by satellite. Pressure gradients also act to change the vertical shear of the wind as the front is crossed. However, the model underpredicts the changes in vertical wind shear across the front, relative to the EPIC observations. It is suggested that the vertical transfer of momentum by mixing, a mechanism described by Wallace et al. may also act to enhance the change in shear in the observations, but the model does not simulate this effect. Reasons for this are discussed.

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Stuart P. Bishop, R. Justin Small, Frank O. Bryan, and Robert A. Tomas

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It has traditionally been thought that midlatitude sea surface temperature (SST) variability is predominantly driven by variations in air–sea surface heat fluxes (SHFs) associated with synoptic weather variability. Here it is shown that in regions marked by the highest climatological SST gradients and SHF loss to the atmosphere, the variability in SST and SHF at monthly and longer time scales is driven by internal ocean processes, termed here “oceanic weather.” This is shown within the context of an energy balance model of coupled air–sea interaction that includes both stochastic forcing for the atmosphere and ocean. The functional form of the lagged correlation between SST and SHF allows us to discriminate between variability that is driven by atmospheric versus oceanic weather. Observations show that the lagged functional relationship of SST–SHF and SST tendency–SHF correlation is indicative of ocean-driven SST variability in the western boundary currents (WBCs) and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC). By applying spatial and temporal smoothing, thereby dampening the signature SST anomalies generated by eddy stirring, it is shown that the oceanic influence on SST variability increases with time scale but decreases with increasing spatial scale. The scale at which SST variability in the WBCs and the ACC transitions from ocean to atmosphere driven occurs at scales less than 500 km. This transition scale highlights the need to resolve mesoscale eddies in coupled climate models to adequately simulate the variability of air–sea interaction. Away from strong SST fronts the lagged functional relationships are indicative of the traditional paradigm of atmospherically driven SST variability.

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James F. Booth, Young-Oh Kwon, Stanley Ko, R. Justin Small, and Rym Msadek

Abstract

To improve the understanding of storm tracks and western boundary current (WBC) interactions, surface storm tracks in 12 CMIP5 models are examined against ERA-Interim. All models capture an equatorward displacement toward the WBCs in the locations of the surface storm tracks’ maxima relative to those at 850 hPa. An estimated storm-track metric is developed to analyze the location of the surface storm track. It shows that the equatorward shift is influenced by both the lower-tropospheric instability and the baroclinicity. Basin-scale spatial correlations between models and ERA-Interim for the storm tracks, near-surface stability, SST gradient, and baroclinicity are calculated to test the ability of the GCMs’ match reanalysis. An intermodel comparison of the spatial correlations suggests that differences (relative to ERA-Interim) in the position of the storm track aloft have the strongest influence on differences in the surface storm-track position. However, in the North Atlantic, biases in the surface storm track north of the Gulf Stream are related to biases in the SST. An analysis of the strength of the storm tracks shows that most models generate a weaker storm track at the surface than 850 hPa, consistent with observations, although some outliers are found. A linear relationship exists among the models between storm-track amplitudes at 500 and 850 hPa, but not between 850 hPa and the surface. In total, the work reveals a dual role in forcing the surface storm track from aloft and from the ocean surface in CMIP5 models, with the atmosphere having the larger relative influence.

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Simon P. de Szoeke, Shang-Ping Xie, Toru Miyama, Kelvin J. Richards, and R. Justin O. Small

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A coupled ocean–atmosphere regional model suggests a mechanism for formation of a sharp sea surface temperature (SST) front north of the equator in the eastern Pacific Ocean in boreal summer and fall. Meridional convergence of Ekman transport at 5°N is forced by eastward turning of the southeasterly cross-equatorial wind, but the SST front forms considerably south of the maximum Ekman convergence. Geostrophic equatorward flow at 3°N in the lower half of the isothermally mixed layer enhances mixed layer convergence.

Cold water is upwelled on or south of the equator and is advected poleward by mean mixed layer flow and by eddies. The mixed layer current convergence in the north confines the cold advection, so the SST front stays close to the equator. Warm advection from the north and cold advection from the south strengthen the front. In the Southern Hemisphere, a continuous southwestward current advects cold water far from the upwelling core.

The cold tongue is warmed by the net surface flux, which is dominated by solar radiation. Evaporation and net surface cooling are at a maximum just north of the SST front where relatively cool dry air is advected northward over warm SST. The surface heat flux is decomposed into a response to SST alone, and an atmospheric feedback. The atmospheric feedback enhances cooling on the north side of the front by 178 W m−2, about half of which is due to enhanced evaporation from cold dry advection, while the other half is due to cloud radiative forcing.

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R. Justin Small, Frank O. Bryan, Stuart P. Bishop, Sarah Larson, and Robert A. Tomas

Abstract

A key question in climate modeling is to what extent sea surface temperature and upper-ocean heat content are driven passively by air–sea heat fluxes, as opposed to forcing by ocean dynamics. This paper investigates the question using a climate model at different resolutions, and observations, for monthly variability. At the grid scale in a high-resolution climate model with resolved mesoscale ocean eddies, ocean dynamics (i.e., ocean heat flux convergence) dominates upper 50 m heat content variability over most of the globe. For deeper depths of integration to 400 m, the heat content variability at the grid scale is almost totally controlled by ocean heat flux convergence. However, a strong dependence on spatial scale is found—for the upper 50 m of ocean, after smoothing the data to around 7°, air–sea heat fluxes, augmented by Ekman heat transports, dominate. For deeper depths of integration to 400 m, the transition scale becomes larger and is above 10° in western boundary currents. Comparison of climate model results with observations show that the small-scale influence of ocean intrinsic variability is well captured by the high-resolution model but is missing from a comparable model with parameterized ocean-eddy effects. In the deep tropics, ocean dynamics dominates in all cases and all scales. In the subtropical gyres at large scales, air–sea heat fluxes play the biggest role. In the midlatitudes, at large scales >10°, atmosphere-driven air–sea heat fluxes and Ekman heat transport variability are the dominant processes except in the western boundary currents for the 400 m heat content.

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