An analytical framework for understanding tropical Meridional Modes

13 Dec 2016  ·  Martinez-Villalobos Cristian, Vimont Daniel J. ·

A theoretical framework is developed for understanding the transient growth and propagation characteristics of thermodynamically coupled, meridional mode-like structures in the tropics. The model consists of a Gill-Matsuno type steady atmosphere under the longwave approximation coupled via a wind-evaporation-sea surface temperature (WES) feedback to a "slab" ocean model... When projected onto basis functions for the atmosphere the system simplifies to a non-normal set of equations that describes the evolution of individual sea surface temperature (SST) modes, with clean separation between symmetric and anti-symmetric modes. The following major findings result from analysis of the system: (i) a transient growth process exists whereby specific SST modes propagate toward lower order modes at the expense of the higher-order modes; (ii) the same dynamical mechanisms govern the evolution of symmetric and anti-symmetric SST modes except for the lowest-order wave number, where for symmetric structures the atmospheric Kelvin wave plays a critically different role in enhancing decay; and (iii) the WES feedback is positive for all modes (with a maximum for the most equatorially confined antisymmetric structure) except for the most equatorially confined symmetric mode where the Kelvin wave generates a negative WES feedback. Taken together, these findings explain why equatorially anti-symmetric "dipole"-like structures may dominate thermodynamically coupled ocean / atmosphere variability in the tropics. The role of non-normality as well as the role of realistic mean states in meridional mode variability are discussed. read more

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Atmospheric and Oceanic Physics Fluid Dynamics Geophysics