Air-sea interaction at contrasting sites in the eastern tropical Pacific : mesoscale variability and atmospheric convection at 10°N Thesis uri icon


  • The role of ocean dynamics in driving air-sea interaction is examined at two contrasting sites on 125°W in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean using data from the Pan American Climate Study (PACS) field program. Analysis based on the PACS data set and satellite observations of sea surface temperature (SST) reveals marked differences in the role of ocean dynamics in modulating SST. At a near-equatorial site (3°S), the 1997-1998 El Nino event dominated the evolution of SST and surface heat fluxes, and it is found that wind-driven southward Ekman transport was important in the local transition from El Nino to La Nina conditions. At a 10°N site near the summertime position of the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone, oceanic mesoscale motions played an important role in modulating SST at intraseasonal (50- to 100-day) timescales, and the buoy observations suggest that there are variations in surface solar radiation coupled to these mesoscale SST variations. This suggests that the mesoscale oceanic variability may influence the occurrence of clouds. The intraseasonal variability in currents, sea surface height, and SST at the northern site is examined within the broader spatial and temporal context afforded by satellite data. The oscillations have zonal wavelengths of 550-1650 km and propagate westward in a manner consistent with the dispersion relation for first baroclinic mode, free Rossby waves in the presence of a mean westward flow. The hypothesis that the intraseasonal variability and its annual cycle are associated with baroclinic instability of the North Equatorial Current is supported by a spatio-temporal correlation between the amplitude of intraseasonal variability and the occurrence of westward zonal flows meeting an approximate necessary condition for baroclinic instability. Focusing on 10°N in the eastern tropical Pacific, the hypothesis that mesoscale oceanic SST variability can systematically influence cloud properties is investigated using several satellite data products. A statistically significant relationship between SST and columnar cloud liquid water (CLW), cloud reflectivity, and surface solar radiation is identified within the wavenumber-frequency band corresponding to oceanic Rossby waves. Analysis of seven years of CLW data and 20 years surface solar radiation data indicates that 10-20% of the variance of these cloud-related properties at intraseasonal periods and wavelengths on the order of 10° longitude can be ascribed to SST signals driven by oceanic Rossby waves.

publication date

  • February 2007