National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2017

Surface frontogenesis by surface heat fluxes in the Upstream Kuroshio Extension region

Tozuka, T., M.F. Cronin, and H. Tomita

Scientific Reports, 7, 10258, doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-10268-3, Published online (2017)

Western boundary currents bring warm tropical water poleward and eastward and are characterized by a sharp sea surface temperature (SST) front on the poleward edge of the current as it extends into the interior basin. One of the most prominent such front is associated with the Kuroshio Extension (KE) as it extends east of Japan (“upstream KE”). Large latent and sensible heat fluxes that warm the atmosphere and cool the ocean project this front into the atmosphere, thereby affecting weather and climate both locally and remotely. While one might assume that these larger surface heat fluxes on the equatorward side would tend to damp the SST front, here we present observational evidence that the surface heat loss actually strengthens the front during October-April in monthly climatology and about 87% of months from October to January during the 2004/05–2014/15 period, although the percentage lowers to about 38% for February-April of the same period, suggesting some temporal/data dependency in the analysis. The key to understanding this counterintuitive result for frontogenesis is that the effective heat capacity of the surface water depends on mixed layer thickness. SSTs are more (less) sensitive to surface heat fluxes in regions with shallow (deep) mixed layer.

Feature Publications | Outstanding Scientific Publications

Contact Sandra Bigley |