Global Variations in Oceanic Evaporation (1958–2005): The Role of the Changing Wind Speed Academic Article uri icon


  • Global estimates of oceanic evaporation (Evp) from 1958 to 2005 have been recently developed by the Objectively Analyzed Air–Sea Fluxes (OAFlux) project at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). The nearly 50-yr time series shows that the decadal change of the global oceanic evaporation (Evp) is marked by a distinct transition from a downward trend to an upward trend around 1977–78. Since the transition, the global oceanic Evp has been up about 11 cm yr?1 (10%), from a low at 103 cm yr?1 in 1977 to a peak at 114 cm yr?1 in 2003. The increase in Evp was most dramatic during the 1990s. The uncertainty of the estimates is about ±2.74 cm yr?1. By utilizing the newly developed datasets of Evp and related air–sea variables, the study investigated the cause of the decadal change in oceanic Evp. The decadal differences between the 1990s and the 1970s indicates that the increase of Evp in the 1990s occurred over a global scale and had spatially coherent structures. Larger Evp is most pronounced in two key regions—one is the paths of the global western boundary currents and their extensions, and the other is the tropical Indo-Pacific warm water pools. It is also found that Evp was enlarged primarily during the hemispheric wintertime (defined as the mean of December–February for the northern oceans and June–August for the southern oceans). Despite the dominant upward tendency over the global basins, a slight reduction in Evp appeared in such regions as the subtropical centers of the Evp maxima as well as the eastern equatorial Pacific and Atlantic cold tongues. An empirical orthogonal function (EOF) analysis was performed for the yearly winter-mean time series of Evp and the related air–sea variables [i.e., wind speed (U) and air–sea humidity differences (dq)]. The analysis suggested a dominant role of the wind forcing in the decadal change of both Evp and dq. It is hypothesized that wind impacts Evp in two ways. The first way is direct: the greater wind speed induces more evaporation by carrying water vapor away from the evaporating surface to allow the air–sea humidity gradients to be reestablished at a faster pace. The second way is indirect: the enhanced surface wind strengthens the wind-driven subtropical gyre, which in turn drives a greater heat transport by the western boundary currents, warms up SST along the paths of the currents and extensions, and causes more evaporation by enlarging the air–sea humidity gradients. The EOF analysis performed for the time series of the global annual-mean Evp fields showed that the first three EOF modes account for nearly 50% of the total variance. The mode 1 variability represents the upward trend in Evp after 1978 and is attributable to the increased U, and the mode 2 variability explains much of the downward trend in Evp before 1978 and is correlated to the global dq variability. The EOF mode 3 of Evp captures the interannual variability of Evp on time scales of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation, with the center of action over the eastern equatorial Pacific.

publication date

  • November 2007