Sura P. and M. Newman (February 2008): The Impact of Rapid Wind Variability upon Air–Sea Thermal Coupling. J. Climate, 21 (4), 621-637. doi:10.1175/2007JCLI1708.1

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Abstract

The basic effect of extratropical atmosphere–ocean thermal coupling is to enhance the variance of both anomalous sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and air temperatures (AIRT) due to a decreased energy flux between the atmosphere and ocean, called reduced thermal damping. In this paper it is shown that rapidly varying surface winds, through their influence upon the turbulent surface heat fluxes that drive this coupling, act to effectively weaken the coupling and thus partially counteract the reduced thermal damping. In effect, rapid fluctuations in wind speed somewhat insulate the atmosphere and ocean from each other. The nonlinear relationship between the rapidly varying wind speed anomalies and SST and AIRT anomalies results in a rapidly varying component of the surface heat fluxes. The clear separation between the dynamical time scales of the ocean and atmosphere allows this rapidly varying flux to be simply approximated by a stochastic process in which rapidly varying wind speed is represented as Gaussian white noise whose amplitude is modulated by the more slowly evolving thermal anomalies. Such state-dependent (multiplicative) noise can alter the dynamics of atmosphere–ocean coupling because it induces an additional heat flux term, the noise-induced drift, that effectively acts to weaken both coupling and dissipation. Another key implication of the outlined theory is that air–sea coupling includes both deterministic and stochastic components. The theory is tested by examining daily observations during extended winter (November–April) at several ocean weather stations (OWSs). Two important results are found. First, multiplicative noise at OWS P effectively decreases the coupling by about one-third, with about a 10% (20%) decrease in the damping of SST (AIRT). This suggests that multiplicative noise may be responsible for roughly half of the AIRT variability at OWS P on subseasonal time scales. Second, OWS observations reveal that joint probability distribution functions of daily averaged SST and AIRT anomalies are significantly non-Gaussian. It is shown that treating the rapidly varying boundary layer heat fluxes as state-dependent noise can reproduce this observed non-Gaussianity. It is concluded that the effect of state-dependent noise is crucial to understand and model atmosphere–ocean coupling.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: PSD Publications
Divisions: Physical Sciences Division
DOI: 10.1175/2007JCLI1708.1
URI: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/pubs/id/eprint/830