Contributions of atmospheric and oceanic feedbacks to subtropical northeastern sea surface temperature variability

Eleanor Middlemas, Amy Clement, Brian Medeiros

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Previous studies show that the dominant mode of variability in the Northeastern subtropical Pacific and Atlantic are analogous. Most attention has been given to the wind-evaporation-sea surface temperature (WES) feedback, but more recent studies suggest that clouds and ocean play a role. Here, it is shown that, while the mode of variability is similar, the quantitative role of clouds and ocean are different. Using Community Earth System Model, version 1.2, cloud feedbacks and interactive ocean dynamics are disabled separately to diagnose the relative contributions of each to sea surface temperature (SST) variability in subtropical northeastern ocean basins. Results from four experiments show that the relative contributions from WES and cloud radiative feedback depend on the role of the ocean. Positive cloud radiative feedback is evident in both basins but has less impact on SST variance in the Atlantic than in the Pacific. The reason for this is that ocean processes strongly damp SST anomalies in the Pacific and weakly enhance SST anomalies in the Atlantic. When cloud feedbacks are disabled, ocean processes become a larger driver of SST variability in the Atlantic. In line with previous studies, the Northeast Pacific SST variability may be understood as a white-noise-forced linear stochastic system with positive feedback from cloud and damping by latent heat flux and ocean processes, while Atlantic SST is driven partially by variations in ocean circulation and requires vertical mixing for rendition. Between these two regions, different ocean dynamics lead to different roles for atmospheric feedbacks but still result in similar patterns of SST variability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6877-6890
Number of pages14
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number11
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019


  • Cloud radiative feedback
  • Meridional modes
  • Northeastern subtropical ocean
  • Ocean dynamics
  • WES feedback

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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