Diagnosing Air-Sea Interactions on Intraseasonal Timescales

Friday, 19 December 2014: 8:30 AM
Charlotte A DeMott, Colorado State University, Atmospheric Science, Fort Collins, CO, United States
What is the role of ocean coupling in the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO)? Consensus thinking holds that the essential physics of the MJO involve interactions between convection, atmospheric wave dynamics, and boundary layer and free troposphere moisture. However, many modeling studies demonstrate improved MJO simulation when an atmosphere-only general circulation model (AGCM) is coupled to an ocean model, so feedbacks from the ocean are probably not negligible.

Assessing the importance and processes of these feedbacks is challenging for at least two reasons. First, observations of the MJO only sample the fully coupled ocean-atmosphere system; there is no "uncoupled" MJO in nature. Second, the practice of analyzing the MJO in uncoupled and coupled GCMs (CGCMs) involves using imperfect tools to study the problem. Although MJO simulation is improving in many models, shortcomings remain in both AGCMs and CGCMs, making it difficult to determine if changes brought about through coupling reflect critical air-sea interactions or are simply part of the collective idiosyncracies of a given model.

For the atmosphere, ocean feedbacks from intraseasonal sea surface temperature (SST) variations are communicated through their effects on surface fluxes of heat and moisture. This presentation suggests a set of analysis tools for diagnosing the impact of an interactive ocean on surface latent and sensible heat fluxes, including their mean, variance, spectral characteristics, and phasing with respect to wind, SST, and MJO convection. The diagnostics are demonstrated with application to several CMIP5 models, and reveal a variety of responses to coupled ocean feedbacks.