Climate and the tropical oceans

Amy Clement, Richard Seager

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

61 Scopus citations

Abstract

An attempt is made to determine the role of the ocean in establishing the mean tropical climate and its sensitivity to radiative perturbations. A simple two-box energy balance model is developed that includes ocean heat transports as an interactive component of the tropical climate system. It is found that changes in the zonal mean ocean heat transport can have a considerable affect on the mean tropical sea surface temperature (SST) through their effect on the properties of subtropical marine stratus clouds or on the water vapor greenhouse effect of the tropical atmosphere. The way that the tropical climate adjusts to changes in the ocean heat transport is primarily through the atmospheric heat transport, without changing the net top of the atmosphere radiative balance. Thus, the total amount of low-latitude poleward heat transport is invariant with respect to changes in ocean circulation in this model. These results are compared with analogous experiments with general circulation models. Doubled CO2 experiments are performed with different values of ocean heat transport. It is found that the sensitivity of the mean tropical SST to doubled CO2 depends on the strength of the ocean heat transport due to feedbacks between the ocean and subtropical marine stratus clouds and the water vapor greenhouse effect. In this model, the results are the same whether the ocean heat transports are determined interactively or are fixed. Some recent studies have suggested that an increased meridional overturning in the ocean due to changes in the zonally asymmetric circulation can reduce the sensitivity of the tropical climate to increased CO2. It is found that, in equilibrium, this is not that case, but rather an increase in ocean heat transport, which involves increased equatorial upwelling, actually warms the tropical climate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3383-3401
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Climate
Volume12
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science

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