Characterization of Turbulent Latent and Sensible Heat Flux Exchange between the Atmosphere and Ocean in MERRA Academic Article uri icon


  • Abstract Turbulent fluxes of heat and moisture across the atmosphere–ocean interface are fundamental components of the earth’s energy and water balance. Characterizing both the spatiotemporal variability and the fidelity of these exchanges of heat and moisture is critical to understanding the global water and energy cycle variations, quantifying atmosphere–ocean feedbacks, and improving model predictability. This study examines the veracity of the recently completed NASA Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) product in terms of its turbulent surface fluxes. This assessment employs a large dataset of directly measured turbulent fluxes as well as other turbulent surface flux datasets. The spatial and temporal variability of the surface fluxes are examined in terms of their annual-mean climatologies, their seasonal covariability of near-surface bulk parameters, and their representation of extremes. The impact of data assimilation on the near-surface parameters is assessed through evaluation of the incremental analysis update tendencies. It is found that MERRA turbulent surface fluxes are relatively accurate for typical conditions but have systematically weak vertical gradients in moisture and temperature and a weaker covariability between the near-surface gradients and wind speed than found in observations. This results in an underestimate of the surface latent and sensible heat fluxes over the western boundary current and storm-track regions. The assimilation of observations generally acts to bring MERRA closer to observational products by increasing moisture and temperature near the surface and decreasing the near-surface wind speeds.

publication date

  • February 1, 2012