National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2002

Mixed layer temperature balance on intraseasonal timescales in the equatorial Pacific Ocean

McPhaden, M.J.

J. Climate, 15(18), 2632–2647, doi: 10.1175/1520-0442(2002)015<2632:MLTBOI>2 (2002)

The purpose of this study is to document the zonal evolution of processes affecting sea surface temperature (SST) variability on intraseasonal timescales in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Data primarily from the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) array of moored buoys are used, focusing on four sites along the equator with decadelong time series. These sites are located in the western Pacific warm pool (165°E), the eastern Pacific equatorial cold tongue (110° and 140°W), and the transition zone between these two regions (170°W). Results indicate that SST variability on intraseasonal timescales is most significantly influenced by local surface heat fluxes in the western Pacific (165°E), zonal advection in the central Pacific (170°W), and vertical advection and entrainment in the eastern Pacific (110° and 140°W). East of the date line, oceanic equatorial Kelvin waves strongly mediate dynamical processes controlling intraseasonal SSTs variations, while surface fluxes tend to damp these dynamically generated SSTs at a rate of about 20 W m-2 °C-1. The details of coupling between Kelvin wave dynamics and mixed layer processes make for complicated SST phasing along the equator. While thermocline temperatures propagate eastward at Kelvin wave speeds in the central and eastern Pacific, SSTs can develop in phase over thousands of kilometers, or may even appear to propagate westward. Implications of these results for understanding the dynamical connection between intraseasonal and interannual variability are discussed.

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