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Role of Mixed Layer Dynamics in Tropical North Atlantic Interannual Sea Surface Temperature Variability
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  • Description:
    This study examines the causes of observed sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the tropical North Atlantic between 1982 and 2015. The emphasis is on the boreal winter and spring seasons, when tropical Atlantic SSTs project strongly onto the Atlantic meridional mode (AMM). Results from a composite analysis of satellite and reanalysis data show important forcing of SST anomalies by wind-driven changes in mixed layer depth and shortwave radiation between 5 degrees and 10 degrees N, in addition to the well-known positive wind-evaporation-SST and shortwave radiation-SST feedbacks between 5 degrees and 20 degrees N. Anomalous surface winds also drive pronounced thermocline depth anomalies of opposite signs in the eastern equatorial Atlantic and intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ; 2 degrees-8 degrees N). A major new finding is that there is strong event-to-event variability in the impact of thermocline depth on SST in the ITCZ region, in contrast to the more consistent relationship in the eastern equatorial Atlantic. Much stronger anomalies of meridional wind stress, thermocline depth, and vertical turbulent cooling are found in the ITCZ region during a negative AMM event in 2009 compared to a negative event in 2015 and a positive event in 2010, despite SST anomalies of similar magnitude in the early stages of each event. The larger anomalies in 2009 led to a much stronger and longer-lived event. Possible causes of the inconsistent relationship between thermocline depth and SST in the ITCZ region are discussed, including the preconditioning role of the winter cross-equatorial SST gradient.

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