The role of ocean dynamics in the optimal growth of tropical SST anomalies

Journal of Physical Oceanography 40 (2010) 983-1003

L Zanna, P Heimbach, AM Moore, E Tziperman

The role of ocean dynamics in optimally exciting interannual variability of tropical sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies is investigated using an idealized-geometry ocean general circulation model. Initial temperature and salinity perturbations leading to an optimal growth of tropical SST anomalies, typically arising from the nonnormal dynamics, are evaluated. The structure of the optimal perturbations is characterized by relatively strong deep salinity anomalies near the western boundary generating a transient amplification of equatorial SST anomalies in less than four years. The associated growth mechanism is linked to the excitation of coastal and equatorial Kelvin waves near the western boundary following a rapid geostrophic adjustment owing to the optimal initial temperature and salinity perturbations. The results suggest that the nonnormality of the ocean dynamics may efficiently create large tropical SST variability on interannual time scales in the Atlantic without the participation of air-sea processes or the meridional overturning circulation. An optimal deep initial salinity perturbation of 0.1 ppt located near the western boundary can result in a tropical SST anomaly of approximately 0.458C after nearly four years, assuming the dynamics are linear. Possible mechanisms for exciting such deep perturbations are discussed. While this study is motivated by tropical Atlantic SST variability, its relevance to other basins is not excluded. The optimal initial conditions leading to the tropical SST anomalies' growth are obtained by solving a generalized eigenvalue problem. The evaluation of the optimals is achieved by using the Massachusetts Institute of Technology general circulation model (MITgcm) tangent linear and adjoint models as well the the Arnoldi Package (ARPACK) software for solving large-scale eigenvalue problems. © 2010 American Meteorological Society.

Optimal surface excitation of the thermohaline circulation

Journal of Physical Oceanography 38 (2008) 1820-1830

L Zanna, E Tziperman

The amplification of thermohaline circulation (THC) anomalies resulting from heat and freshwater forcing at the ocean surface is investigated in a zonally averaged coupled ocean-atmosphere model. Optimal initial conditions of surface temperature and salinity leading to the largest THC growth are computed, and so are the structures of stochastic surface temperature and salinity forcing that excite maximum THC variance (stochastic optimals). When the THC amplitude is defined as its sum of squares (equivalent to using the standard L2 norm), the nonnormal linearized dynamics lead to an amplification with a time scale on the order of 100 yr. The optimal initial conditions have a vanishing THC anomaly, and the complex amplification mechanism involves the advection of both temperature and salinity anomalies by the mean flow and of the mean temperature and salinity by the anomaly flow. The L2 characterization of THC anomalies leads to physically interesting results, yet to a mathematically singular problem. A novel alternative characterizing the THC amplitude by its maximum value, as often done in general circulation model studies, is therefore introduced. This complementary method is shown to be equivalent to using the L-infinity norm, and the needed mathematical approach is developed and applied to the THC problem. Under this norm, an amplification occurs within 10 yr explained by the classic salinity advective feedback mechanism. The analysis of the stochastic optimals shows that the character of the THC variability may be very sensitive to the spatial pattern of the surface forcing. In particular, a maximum THC variance and long-time-scale variability are excited by a basin-scale surface forcing pattern, while a significantly higher frequency and to some extent a weaker variability are induced by a smooth and large-scale, yet mostly concentrated in polar areas, surface forcing pattern. Overall, the results suggest that a large THC variability can be efficiently excited by atmospheric surface forcing, and the simple model used here makes several predictions that would be interesting to test using more complex models. © 2008 American Meteorological Society.

Nonnormal thermohaline circulation dynamics in a coupled ocean-atmosphere GCM

Journal of Physical Oceanography 38 (2008) 588-604

E Tziperman, L Zanna, C Penland

Using the GFDL coupled atmosphere-ocean general circulation model CM2.1, the transient amplification of thermohaline circulation (THC) anomalies due to its nonnormal dynamics is studied. A reduced space based on empirical orthogonal functions (EOFs) of temperature and salinity anomaly fields in the North Atlantic is constructed. Under the assumption that the dynamics of this reduced space is linear, the propagator of the system is then evaluated and the transient growth of THC anomalies analyzed. Although the linear dynamics are stable, such that any initial perturbation eventually decays, nonnormal effects are found to result in a significant transient growth of temperature, salinity, and THC anomalies. The growth time scale for these anomalies is between 5 and 10 yr, providing an estimate of the predictability time of the North Atlantic THC in this model. There are indications that these results are merely a lower bound on the nonnormality of THC dynamics in the present coupled GCM. This seems to suggest that such nonnormal effects should be seriously considered if the predictability of the THC is to be quantitatively evaluated from models or observations. The methodology presented here may be used to produce initial perturbations to the ocean state that may result in a stricter estimate of ocean and THC predictability than the common procedure of initializing with an identical ocean state and a perturbed atmosphere. © 2008 American Meteorological Society.

Nonnormal amplification of the thermohaline circulation

Journal of Physical Oceanography 35 (2005) 1593-1605

L Zanna, E Tziperman

A simple zonally averaged coupled ocean-atmosphere model, with a relatively high resolution in the meridional direction, is used to examine physical mechanisms leading to transient amplification of thermohaline circulation (THC) anomalies. It is found that in a stable regime, in which small perturbations eventually decay, there are optimal initial conditions leading to a dramatic amplification of initial temperature and salinity anomalies in addition to the THC amplification. The maximum amplification occurs after about 40 years, and the eventual decay is on a centennial time scale. The initial temperature and salinity anomalies are considerably amplified by factors of a few hundreds and 20, respectively. The initial conditions leading to this amplification are characterized by mutually canceling initial temperature and salinity anomalies contributions to the THC anomaly, such that the initial THC anomaly vanishes. The mechanism of amplification is analyzed and found to be the result of an interaction between a few damped (oscillatory and nonoscillatory) modes with decay time scales lying in a range of 20-800 years. The amplification mechanism is also found to be distinct from the advertive feedback leading to THC instabilities for large freshwater forcing. © 2005 American Meteorological Society.

How much should we believe correlations between Arctic cyclones and sea ice extent?

The Cryosphere Copernicus GmbH 11 (0) 3023-3034

JGL Rae, AD Todd, EW Blockley, JK Ridley

<jats:p>Abstract. This paper presents an investigation of the robustness of correlations between characteristics of Arctic summer cyclones and September Arctic sea ice extent. A cyclone identification and tracking algorithm is run for output from 100-year coupled climate model simulations at two resolutions and for 30 years of reanalysis data, using two different tracking variables (mean sea-level pressure, MSLP; and 850 hPa vorticity) for identification of the cyclones. The influence of the tracking variable, the spatial resolution of the model, and spatial and temporal sampling on the correlations is then explored. We conclude that the correlations obtained depend on all of these factors and that care should be taken when interpreting the results of such analyses. Previous studies of this type have used around 30 years of reanalysis and observational data, analysed with a single tracking variable. Our results therefore cast some doubt on the conclusions drawn in those studies. </jats:p>