National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2015

The influence of salinity on tropical Atlantic instability waves

Lee, T., G. Lagerloef, H.-Y. Kao, M.J. McPhaden, J. Willis, and M.M. Gierach

J. Geophys. Res., 119(12), 8375–8394, doi: 10.1002/2014JC010100 (2014)

Sea surface salinity (SSS) data derived from the Aquarius/SAC-D satellite mission are analyzed along with other satellite and in situ data to assess Aquarius' capability to detect tropical instability waves (TIWs) and eddies in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and to investigate the influence that SSS has on the variability. Aquarius data show that the magnitude of SSS anomalies associated with the Atlantic TIWs is ±0.25 practical salinity unit, which is weaker than those in the Pacific by 50%. In the central equatorial Atlantic, SSS contribution to the mean meridional density gradient is similar to sea surface temperature (SST) contribution. Consequently, SSS is important to TIW-related surface density anomalies and perturbation potential energy (PPE). In this region, SSS influences surface PPE significantly through the direct effect and the indirect effect associated with SSS-SST covariability. Ignoring SSS effects would underestimate TIW-related PPE by approximately three times in the surface layer. SSS also regulates the seasonality of the TIWs. The boreal-spring peak of the PPE due to SSS leads that due to SST by about one month. Therefore, SSS not only affects the spatial structure, but the seasonal variability of the TIWs in the equatorial Atlantic. In the northeast Atlantic near the Amazon outflow and the North Brazil Current retroflection region and in the southeast Atlantic near the Congo River outflow, SSS accounts for 80–90% of the contribution to mean meridional density gradient. Not accounting for SSS effect would underestimate surface PPE in these regions by a factor of 10 and 4, respectively.

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