Annual and Semiannual Cycle of Equatorial Atlantic Circulation Associated with Basin-Mode Resonance Academic Article uri icon


  • AbstractSeasonal variability of the tropical Atlantic circulation is dominated by the annual cycle, but semiannual variability is also pronounced, despite weak forcing at that period. This study uses multiyear, full-depth velocity measurements from the central equatorial Atlantic to analyze the vertical structure of annual and semiannual variations of zonal velocity. A baroclinic modal decomposition finds that the annual cycle is dominated by the fourth mode and the semiannual cycle is dominated by the second mode. Similar local behavior is found in a high-resolution general circulation model. This simulation reveals that the annual and semiannual cycles of the respective dominant baroclinic modes are associated with characteristic basinwide structures. Using an idealized, linear, reduced-gravity model to simulate the dynamics of individual baroclinic modes, it is shown that the observed circulation variability can be explained by resonant equatorial basin modes. Corollary simulations of the reduced-gravity model with varying basin geometry (i.e., square basin vs realistic coastlines) or forcing (i.e., spatially uniform vs spatially variable wind) show a structural robustness of the simulated basin modes. A main focus of this study is the seasonal variability of the Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC) as identified in recent observational studies. Main characteristics of the observed EUC including seasonal variability of transport, core depth, and maximum core velocity can be explained by the linear superposition of the dominant equatorial basin modes as obtained from the reduced-gravity model.

publication date

  • October 2016