The connection relating upper-ocean salinity stratification in the form of oceanic barrier layers to tropical cyclone (TC) intensification is investigated in this study. Previous works disagree on whether ocean salinity is a negligible factor on TC intensification. Relationships derived in many of these studies are based on observations, which can be sparse or incomplete, or uncoupled models, which neglect air–sea feedbacks. Here, idealized ensemble simulations of TCs performed using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model coupled to the 3D Price–Weller–Pinkel (PWP) ocean model facilitate examination of the TC–upper-ocean system in a controlled, high-resolution, mesoscale environment. Idealized vertical ocean profiles are modeled after barrier layer profiles of the Amazon–Orinoco river plume region, where barrier layers are defined as vertical salinity gradients between the mixed and isothermal layer depths. Our results reveal that for TCs of category 1 hurricane strength or greater, thick (24–30 m) barrier layers may favor further intensification by 6%–15% when averaging across ensemble members. Conversely, weaker cyclones are hindered by thick barrier layers. Reduced sea surface temperature cooling below the TC inner core is the primary reason for additional intensification. Sensitivity tests of the results to storm translation speed, initial oceanic mixed layer temperature, and atmospheric vertical wind shear provide a more comprehensive analysis. Last, it is shown that the ensemble mean intensity results are similar when using a 3D or 1D version of PWP.
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