Coupled ocean–atmosphere offshore decay scale of cold SST signals along upwelling eastern boundaries

Thumbnail Image
Spall, Michael A.
Schneider, Niklas
Linked Authors
Alternative Title
Date Created
Related Materials
Replaced By
Coastal flows
Ekman pumping/transport
Ocean dynamics
A simple analytic model is developed to represent the offshore decay of cold sea surface temperature (SST) signals that originate from wind-driven upwelling at a coastal boundary. The model couples an oceanic mixed layer to an atmospheric boundary layer through wind stress and air–sea heat exchange. The primary mechanism that controls SST is a balance between Ekman advection and air–sea exchange. The offshore penetration of the cold SST signal decays exponentially with a length scale that is the product of the ocean Ekman velocity and a time scale derived from the air–sea heat flux and the radiative balance in the atmospheric boundary layer. This cold SST signal imprints on the atmosphere in terms of both the boundary layer temperature and surface wind. Nonlinearities due to the feedback between SST and atmospheric wind, baroclinic instability, and thermal wind in the atmospheric boundary layer all slightly modify this linear theory. The decay scales diagnosed from two-dimensional and three-dimensional eddy-resolving numerical ocean models are in close agreement with the theory, demonstrating that the basic physics represented by the theory remain dominant even in these more complete systems. Analysis of climatological SST off the west coast of the United States also shows a decay of the cold SST anomaly with scale roughly in agreement with the theory.
Author Posting. © American Meteorological Society, 2016. This article is posted here by permission of American Meteorological Society for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Journal of Climate 29 (2016): 8317-8331, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-16-0109.1.
Embargo Date
Journal of Climate 29 (2016): 8317-8331
Cruise ID
Cruise DOI
Vessel Name