Simple coupled midlatitude climate models

Talley, LD.  1999.  Simple coupled midlatitude climate models. Journal of Physical Oceanography. 29:2016-2037.

Date Published:



antarctic circumpolar wave, decadal variability, general-circulation, hemisphere circulation, interdecadal variability, linear-response, north pacific, sea-surface temperature, southern oscillation, sst anomalies


A set of simple analytical models is presented and evaluated for interannual to decadal coupled ocean-atmosphere modes at midlatitudes. The atmosphere and ocean are each in Sverdrup balance at these long timescales. The atmosphere's temperature response to heating determines the spatial phase relation between SST and sea level pressure (SLP) anomalies. Vertical advection balancing heating produces high (low) SLP lying east of warm (cold) SST anomalies, as observed in the Antarctic circumpolar wave (ACW), the decadal North Pacific mode, and the interannual North Atlantic mode. Zonal advection in an atmosphere with a rigid lid produces low SLP east of warm SST. However, if an ad hoc equivalent barotropic atmospheric response is assumed, high SLP lies east of warm SST. Relaxation to heating produces behavior like the observed North Atlantic decadal pattern, with low SLP over warm SST. Meridional advection in the atmosphere cannot produce the observed SST/SLP patterns. The dominant balance in the oceans temperature equation determines the phase speed of the modes. The coupled mode is nondispersive in all models examined here, indicating the need for additional processes. For modes with an SST-SLP offset as observed in the ACW and North Pacific, Ekman convergence acting as a heat source causes eastward propagation relative to the mean ocean flow. Sverdrup response to Ekman convergence, acting on the mean meridional temperature gradient, causes westward propagation relative to the mean ocean Row. When the ocean temperature adjusts through surface heat flux alone, the mode is advected by the mean ocean flow and is damped. Relaxation to heating in the atmosphere, when operating with Sverdrup response in the ocean, produces the only complete solution presented here that exhibits growth, with an a-folding timescale of order (100 days). This solution appears appropriate for the North Atlantic decadal mode. In Northern Hemisphere basins, with meridional boundaries, the: same sets of dynamics create the observed SST-SLP phase relation. An additional factor is the creation of SST anomalies through variations in the western boundary current strengths, which are related to the zonally integrated wind stress curl over the whole basin. If barotropic and hence fast adjustment is assumed, the resulting positive feedback can maintain or strengthen the coupled anomalies in the North Pacific and interannual North Atlantic modes.