National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2007

Distinct 17- and 33-day tropical instability waves in subsurface observations

Lyman, J.M., G.C. Johnson, and W.S. Kessler

J. Phys. Oceanogr., 37(4), 855–872, doi: 10.1175/JPO3023.1 (2007)

Tropical instability waves (TIWs) within a half-degree of the equator in the Pacific Ocean have been consistently observed in meridional velocity with periods of around 20 days. On the other hand, near 5°N, TIWs have been observed in sea surface height (SSH), thermocline depth, and velocity to have periods near 30 days. Tropical Atmosphere-Ocean (TAO) Project moored equatorial velocity and temperature time series are used to investigate the spatial and temporal structure of TIWs during 3 years of La Niña conditions from 1998 through 2001. Along 140°W, where the TIW temperature and velocity variabilities are at their maxima, these variabilities include two distinct TIWs with periods of 17 and 33 days, rather than one broadbanded process. As predicted by modeling studies, the 17-day TIW variability is shown to occur not only in meridional velocity at the equator, but also in subsurface temperature at 2°N and 2°S, while the 33-day TIW variability is observed primarily in subsurface temperature at 5°N. These two TIWs, respectively, are shown to have characteristics similar to a Yanai wave/surface-trapped instability and an unstable first meridional mode Rossby wave. One implication of such a description is that the velocity variability on the equator is not directly associated with the dominant 33-day variability along 5°N.

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