National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2008

Meridional structure of the seasonally varying mixed layer temperature balance in the eastern tropical Pacific

McPhaden, M.J., M.F. Cronin, and D.C. McClurg

J. Climate, 21(13), 3240–3260, doi: 10.1175/2007JCLI2115.1 (2008)

The eastern tropical Pacific Ocean is important climatically because of its influence on the El Niño– Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle and the American monsoon. Accurate prediction of these phenomena requires a better understanding of the background climatological conditions on which seasonal-tointerannual time-scale anomalies develop in the region. This study addresses the processes responsible for the seasonal cycle of sea surface temperature (SST) in the eastern tropical Pacific using 3 yr (April 2000–March 2003) of moored buoy and satellite data between 8°S and 12°N along 95°W. Results indicate that at all latitudes, surface heat fluxes are important in the mixed layer temperature balance. At 8°S, in a region of relatively deep mean thermocline and mixed layer, local storage of heat crossing the air–sea interface accounts for much of the seasonal cycle in SST. In the equatorial cold tongue and the intertropical convergence zone, where mean upwelling leads to relatively thin mixed layers, vertical turbulent mixing with the upper thermocline is a major contributor to SST change. Lateral temperature advection by seasonally varying large-scale currents is most significant near the equator but is generally of secondary importance. There is a hemispheric asymmetry in seasonal SST variations, with larger amplitudes in the Southern Hemisphere than in the Northern Hemisphere. This asymmetry is mainly due to forcing from the southerly component of the trade winds, which shifts the axis of equatorial upwelling south of the equator while creating an oceanic convergence zone to the north that limits the northward spread of cold upwelled water. In general, results support the Mitchell and Wallace hypothesis about the importance of southerly winds and ocean–atmosphere feedbacks in establishing seasonally varying climatological conditions in the eastern tropical Pacific.

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