Interactions of the Tropical Oceans

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  • 1 Max-Planck-institut fair Meteorologio, Hamburg, Germany
  • 2 Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California
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Abstract

The authors have investigated the interactions of the tropical oceans on interannual timescales by conducting a series of uncoupled atmospheric and oceanic general circulation experiments and hybrid-coupled model simulations. The results illustrate the key role of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation phenomenon in generating interannual variability in all three tropical ocean basins. Sea surface temperature anomalies in the tropical Pacific force SST anomalies of the same sign in the Indian Ocean and SST anomalies of the opposite sign in the Atlantic via a changed atmospheric circulation. However, although air-sea interactions in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans are much weaker than those in the Pacific, they contribute significantly to the variability in these two regions. The role of these air-sea interactions is mainly that of an amplifier by which the ENSO-induced signals are enhanced in the ocean and atmosphere. This process is particularly important in the tropical Atlantic region.

The authors investigated, also, whether ENSO is part of a zonally propagating “wave,” which travels around the globe with a timescale of several years. Consistent with observations, the upper-ocean heat content in the various numerical simulators seems to propagate slowly around the globe. SST anomalies in the Pacific Ocean introduce a global atmospheric response, which in turn forces variations in the other tropical oceans. Since the different oceans exhibit different response characteristics to low-frequency wind changes, the individual tropical ocean responses can add up coincidentally to look like a global wave, and that appears to be the situation. In particular, no evidence is found that the Indian Ocean can significantly affect the ENSO cycle in the Pacific. Finally, the potential for climate forecasts in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans appears to be enhanced if one includes, in a coupled way, remote influences from the Pacific.

Abstract

The authors have investigated the interactions of the tropical oceans on interannual timescales by conducting a series of uncoupled atmospheric and oceanic general circulation experiments and hybrid-coupled model simulations. The results illustrate the key role of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation phenomenon in generating interannual variability in all three tropical ocean basins. Sea surface temperature anomalies in the tropical Pacific force SST anomalies of the same sign in the Indian Ocean and SST anomalies of the opposite sign in the Atlantic via a changed atmospheric circulation. However, although air-sea interactions in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans are much weaker than those in the Pacific, they contribute significantly to the variability in these two regions. The role of these air-sea interactions is mainly that of an amplifier by which the ENSO-induced signals are enhanced in the ocean and atmosphere. This process is particularly important in the tropical Atlantic region.

The authors investigated, also, whether ENSO is part of a zonally propagating “wave,” which travels around the globe with a timescale of several years. Consistent with observations, the upper-ocean heat content in the various numerical simulators seems to propagate slowly around the globe. SST anomalies in the Pacific Ocean introduce a global atmospheric response, which in turn forces variations in the other tropical oceans. Since the different oceans exhibit different response characteristics to low-frequency wind changes, the individual tropical ocean responses can add up coincidentally to look like a global wave, and that appears to be the situation. In particular, no evidence is found that the Indian Ocean can significantly affect the ENSO cycle in the Pacific. Finally, the potential for climate forecasts in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans appears to be enhanced if one includes, in a coupled way, remote influences from the Pacific.

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