Simulations of the Atmospheric Response to South Atlantic Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies

Robertson, Andrew W.; Farrara, John D.; Mechoso, Carlos R.

The sensitivity of the atmospheric circulation to sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the tropical and subtropical South Atlantic Ocean is studied by means of simulations with an atmospheric general circulation model (GCM). Two types of prescribed SST anomalies are used, motivated by previous analyses of data. The first occurs during austral summers in association with a strengthening of the South Atlantic convergence zone (SACZ) and consists of cold SST anomalies over the subtropical South Atlantic. The second is the leading seasonally varying empirical orthogonal function of SST, consisting of warm basin-scale anomalies with maximum amplitude in the subtropics during January–March and at the equator in June. An ensemble of about 10 seasonal simulations is made using each type of anomaly, focusing on the January–March period in the first case and the January–June seasonal evolution in the second. During January–March both experiments yield a statistically significant baroclinic response over the subtropical Atlantic with dipolar SACZ-like anomalies. Some evidence of positive feedback is found. The response is shown to be fairly similar in pattern as well as amplitude to the linear regression of observed interannual low-level wind anomalies with subtropical SST anomalies. However, in the first experiment with cold SST anomalies, the simulated response contrasts with the leading interannual mode of observed SACZ variability. Warm basin-scale anomalies are found to have their largest impact during boreal summer, with a strong statistically significant equatorial baroclinic response and positive rainfall anomalies over the equatorial ocean. The latter do not extend appreciably into the adjacent continents, although there are significant positive rainfall anomalies over the Sahel in April–June and negative anomalies over the western Indian Ocean. In the upper troposphere, a statistically significant wave train extends southwestward to southern South America and northeastward to Europe in April–June, while there is some linkage between the tropically and subtropically forced responses during January–March.

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Academic Units
International Research Institute for Climate and Society
Published Here
August 14, 2012