Latent and sensible heat flux anomalies over the Northern Oceans: the connection to monthly atmospheric circulation

Cayan, DR.  1992.  Latent and sensible heat flux anomalies over the Northern Oceans: the connection to monthly atmospheric circulation. Journal of Climate. 5:354-369.

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cycles, pacific-ocean, temperature, tracks, wind stress, winter


The influence of the atmospheric circulation on monthly anomalies of ocean surface latent and sensible heat fluxes is explored. The fluxes are estimated using bulk formulas applied to a set of about four decades of marine observations over 1946-1986. Monthly averaging over 5-degrees "squares" reduces errors contained in individual observations. The focus is on behavior of the flux anomalies over the relatively well-sampled North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans during winter, when the latent and sensible components are large and the incoming shortwave radiative flux is low. In the North Atlantic and North Pacific (north of about 15-degrees-N), flux anomalies are partially caused by local variations in the monthly mean wind direction. In these extratropical regions, largest positive anomalies occur during northerly to northwesterly winds in response to advection of humidity and temperature from north to south and also to favored directions experiencing strong wind speeds. In the tropics, there is little relationship between the direction and the latent and sensible flux anomalies, since horizontal gradients of humidity and temperature are weak and the wind direction is relatively steady. The most convincing connection between the wind and the flux anomalies is not local, but rather has basin scales associated with the monthly atmospheric circulation. In the North Atlantic and North Pacific, dominant atmospheric circulation modes, represented as empirical orthogonal functions of the sea level pressure (SLP) anomaly, have systematic patterns of the anomalies of wind speed (w), surface saturation humidity-air humidity difference (DELTA-q), and sea surface temperature-air temperature difference (DELTA-T); these produce large-scale patterns in the latent and sensible fluxes. In the extratropics, a major negative SLP anomaly tends to have positive w anomalies to its south and negative w anomalies to its north, while DELTA-q (and DELTA-T) anomalies lie to the west and east of the low, apparently because of meridional air advection. The resultant flux anomalies are shifted meridionally and zonally about the SLP centers, with enhanced sea-to-air fluxes to the southwest and diminished fluxes to the east of an anomalous low. Regions of increased monthly mean fluxes tend to have larger than normal intramonthly variability in the fluxes. Months with strong monthly atmospheric circulation anomalies frequently exhibit combined latent and sensible flux anomalies with magnitudes exceeding 50 W m-2 over several hundred kilometer regions.