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Direct and Rectified Effects of Tropical Instability Waves on the Eastern Tropical Pacific Mean State in a Regional Ocean Model

Abstract : Tropical instability waves (TIWs) are oceanic features propagating westward along the northern front of the Pacific cold tongue. Observational and modeling studies suggest that TIWs may have a large impact on the eastern tropical Pacific background state from seasonal to interannual time scales through heat advection and mixing. However, observations are coarse or limited to surface data, and modeling studies are often based on the comparison of low- versus high-resolution simulations. In this study, we perform a set of regional high-resolution ocean simulations (CROCO 1/12°) in which we strongly damp (NOTIWs-RUN) or not (TIWs-RUN) TIW propagation, by nudging meridional current velocities in the TIW region toward their monthly climatological values. This approach, while effectively removing TIW mesoscale activity, does not alter the model internal physics in particular related to the equatorial Kelvin wave dynamics. The impact of TIWs on the oceanic mean state is then assessed by comparing the two simulations. While the well-known direct effect of TIW heat advection is to weaken the meridional temperature gradient by warming up the cold tongue (0.34°C month−1), the rectified effect of TIWs onto the mean state attenuates this direct effect by cooling down the cold tongue (−0.10°C month−1). This rectified effect occurs through the TIW-induced deepening and weakening of the Equatorial Undercurrent, which subsequently modulates the mean zonal advection and counterbalances the TIWs' direct effect. This approach allows quantifying the rectified effect of TIWs without degrading the model horizontal resolution and may lead to a better characterization of the eastern tropical Pacific mean state and to the development of TIW parameterizations in Earth system models. Significance Statement Tropical instability waves (TIWs), meandering features at the surface of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, have long been recognized as a key component of the climate system that can even impact marine ecosystems. Yet, they are still hardly simulated in coupled global climate models. Here, we introduce a new framework to isolate and quantify their complex influence on the tropical Pacific background climate. This approach allows revealing a so far overlooked effect of TIWs on the mean circulation and heat transport in this region that should be accounted for in the next generation of global coupled climate models through parameterization or increased resolution.
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Submitted on : Wednesday, November 23, 2022 - 4:11:49 PM
Last modification on : Friday, November 25, 2022 - 3:25:22 PM

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Lisa Maillard, Julien Boucharel, Lionel Renault. Direct and Rectified Effects of Tropical Instability Waves on the Eastern Tropical Pacific Mean State in a Regional Ocean Model. Journal of Physical Oceanography, 2022, 52, pp.1817-1834. ⟨10.1175/JPO-D-21-0300.1⟩. ⟨insu-03867908⟩

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