A global relationship between the ocean water cycle and near-surface salinity
Ocean evaporation (E) and precipitation (P) are the fundamental components of the global water cycle. They are also the freshwater flux forcing (i.e., E-P) for the open ocean salinity. The apparent connection between ocean salinity and the global water cycle leads to the proposition of using the oceans as a rain gauge. However, the exact relationship between E-P and salinity is governed by complex upper ocean dynamics, which may complicate the inference of the water cycle from salinity observations. To gain a better understanding of the ocean rain gauge concept, here we address a fundamental issue as to how E-P and salinity are related on the seasonal timescales. A global map that outlines the dominant process for the mixed-layer salinity (MLS) in different regions is thus derived, using a lower-order MLS dynamics that allows key balance terms (i.e., E-P, the Ekman and geostrophic advection, vertical entrainment, and horizontal diffusion) to be computed from satellite-derived data sets and a salinity climatology. Major E-P control on seasonal MLS variability is found in two regions: the tropical convergence zones featuring heavy rainfall and the western North Pacific and Atlantic under the influence of high evaporation. Within this regime, E-P accounts for 40–70% MLS variance with peak correlations occurring at 2–4 month lead time. Outside of the tropics, the MLS variations are governed predominantly by the Ekman advection, and then vertical entrainment. The study suggests that the E-P regime could serve as a window of opportunity for testing the ocean rain gauge concept once satellite salinity observations are available.
Author Posting. © American Geophysical Union, 2011. This article is posted here by permission of American Geophysical Union for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Journal of Geophysical Research 116 (2011): C10025, doi:10.1029/2010JC006937.
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