National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2012

The dynamics of wind-driven intraseasonal variability in the equatorial Indian Ocean

Nagura, M., and M.J. McPhaden

J. Geophys. Res., 117(C2), C02001, doi: 10.1029/2011JC007405 (2012)

Variability in the equatorial Indian Ocean on intraseasonal time scales (defined as periods of 30–110 days) is investigated using satellite and in situ observations and a simple analytical linear long wave equatorial β-plane model. Despite of the extreme simplicity of the model, which includes just the two gravest baroclinic mode Kelvin waves and first meridional mode Rossby waves, simulated surface zonal velocity and sea surface height compare very well with observations. Both observations and model are characterized by a red shift in the velocity spectrum relative to the wind forcing spectrum, which is attributable to a combination of factors including: 1) the resonant excitation of Kelvin waves by eastward propagating winds; 2) constructive interference between wind-forced waves and waves reflected from the eastern boundary; and c) the favored excitation of low frequency waves whose zonal wavelengths are long compared to the zonal fetch of the wind. We decomposed variability in two broad period bands, namely 30–70 days and 70–110 days for detailed analysis. At periods of 30–70 days, velocity tends to be stationary in the zonal direction along the equator due to the competing contributions of Kelvin and Rossby waves. In contrast, at 70–110 day periods, zonal velocity propagates westward despite eastward propagation of zonal wind stress because of the predominant influence of reflected and wind forced Rossby waves. Kelvin waves reflected from the western boundary are negligibly small, indicating that basin mode resonances are not prominent as has been previously suggested.

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