National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2010

Resonant forcing of mixed layer inertial motions by atmospheric easterly waves in the northeast tropical Pacific

Mickett, J.B., Y.L. Serra, M.F. Cronin, and M.H. Alford

J. Phys. Oceanogr., 40(2), 401–416, doi: 10.1175/2009JPO4276.1 (2010)

Westward-propagating atmospheric easterly waves contribute to much of the variability of the low-level wind fields within the northeast tropical Pacific. With the dominant period of these waves (3–5 days) close to the local inertial period (2.4 days at 12°N to 5.7 days at 5°N), there is the expectation that the associated winds may resonantly force mixed layer inertial motions in this region. The authors test this hypothesis using a simple slab model and roughly 4½ yr of wind data from four NOAA Tropical Atmosphere Ocean/Eastern Pacific Investigation of Climate Processes (TAO/EPIC) buoys along 95°W at 12°, 10°, 8°, and 5°N. The degree of resonance is determined by comparing model simulations using observed wind stress with simulations forced with reversed-rotation wind stress. Results strongly indicate that Pacific easterly waves (PEWs) resonantly force inertial motions in the region. This resonance shows both significant seasonality and latitudinal dependence that appears to be related to the meridional position and intensity of the PEWs. North of the zonal axis of the mean track of the PEWs, the low-level winds associated with the waves rotate predominantly clockwise with time and resonantly force mixed layer inertial motions. South of this axis, the winds rotate counterclockwise, resulting in dissonant (antiresonant) forcing. As this axis migrates annually from about 4°N during the boreal winter/spring to a maximum northerly position of about 8°–10°N in the late boreal summer/early fall, the region of strongest resonance follows, consistently remaining to its north. Model output suggests that resonant forcing results in roughly 10%–25% greater net annual flux of kinetic energy from the wind to mixed layer inertial motions than in neutral or nonresonant conditions. This finding has strong implications for mixed layer properties, air–sea coupling, and the generation of near-inertial internal waves.

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