National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2017

Latent heat flux sensitivity to sea surface temperature: Regional perspectives

Praveen Kumar, B., M.F. Cronin, S. Joseph, M. Ravichandran, and N. Sureshkumar

J. Climate, 30(1), 129–143, doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-16-0285.1 (2016)

A global analysis of latent heat flux (LHF) sensitivity to sea surface temperature (SST) is performed, with focus on the tropics and the north Indian Ocean (NIO). Sensitivity of LHF state variables (surface wind speed Ws and vertical humidity gradients Δq) to SST give rise to mutually interacting dynamical (Ws driven) and thermodynamical (Δq driven) coupled feedbacks. Generally, LHF sensitivity to SST is pronounced over tropics where SST increase causes Wsq) changes, resulting in a maximum decrease (increase) of LHF by ~15 W m−2 (°C)−1. But the Bay of Bengal (BoB) and north Arabian Sea (NAS) remain an exception that is opposite to the global feedback relationship. This uniqueness is attributed to strong seasonality in monsoon Ws and Δq variations, which brings in warm (cold) continental air mass into the BoB and NAS during summer (winter), producing a large seasonal cycle in air–sea temperature difference ΔT (and hence in Δq). In other tropical oceans, surface air is mostly of marine origin and blows from colder to warmer waters, resulting in a constant ΔT ~ 1°C throughout the year, and hence a constant Δq. Thus, unlike other basins, when the BoB and NAS are warming, air temperature warms faster than SST. The resultant decrease in ΔT and Δq contributes to decrease the LHF with increased SST, contrary to other basins. This analysis suggests that, in the NIO, LHF variability is largely controlled by thermodynamic processes, which peak during the monsoon period. These observed LHF sensitivities are then used to speculate how the surface energetics and coupled feedbacks may change in a warmer world.

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