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Ocean Model Studies of Upper-Ocean Variability at 0°N, 160°W during the 1982–1983 ENSO: Local and Remotely Forced Response

D.E. Harrison

NOAA, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115

A.P. Craig

School of Oceanography, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195

Journal of Physical Oceanography, 23(3), 426-451 (1993)
Copyright ©1993 American Meteorological Society. Further electronic distribution is not allowed.


A hindcast of the 1982–1983 ENSO event using a primitive equation ocean circulation model forced by monthly mean wind stresses based on the SADLER pseudostress fields shows very good agreement with observations at 0°, 159°W between June 1982 and March 1983. The hindcast experiment is analyzed to explore the processes that caused the large accelerations, decelerations, and thermal changes observed during this time. Several hindcast experiments incorporating variations of the SADLER wind field and several idealized experiments incorporating a western Pacific westerly wind event are analyzed and compared with the 1982–1983 SADLER hindcast to explore the importance of local and remote forcing, the relative importance of zonal and meridional wind stress changes, and the dynamical signatures of the processes at work. Meridional wind stress changes have little effect on either the zonal velocity or temperature fields. Local zonal wind stress variations can account for the qualitative changes in the upper-ocean zonal flow, but cannot reproduce the observed thermal changes or the timing and quantitative evolution of the zonal flow. Remote forcing is needed to account for these latter aspects of the observations. Eastward-propagating Kelvin response appears to be quite important, but westward-propagating Rossby variance forced during 1982 from east of 160°W does not appear to play any significant role. The idealized remote-forcing experiments indicate that westerly events can account for the variability not explained by local forcing; the essential aspect is how the forcing projects onto the vertical modes defined by the stratification under the forcing at the time of the wind event. Modes higher than the first and second can be strongly forced and the sum over modes produces vertical structures in the near field of the forcing similar to those observed. Simple linear Kelvin mode ideas thus are useful for understanding the response to remotely forced variability. However, nonlinear processes affect the quantitative response, both by changing the stratification under the forcing region as the forcing event proceeds (and thereby altering the modal projection of the forcing) and through zonal advection and interaction between the response and the background mean flow. The dynamical balance of terms for zonal momentum in the SADLER hindcast is quite complex and the difficulty of identifying remote forcing from the balance of terms, even during periods when remote forcing is the primary agent of change, is discussed. This detailed study of a particularly interesting period of equatorial flow and thermal variability illustrates the many processes at work on the equator in the central Pacific during periods of substantial local and remote wind stress variability. It also illustrates some of the challenges that might be encountered in interpreting the results of an oceanic local dynamics experiment under conditions like these.

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