Evaluating the impact of atmospheric forcing and air–sea coupling on near-coastal regional ocean prediction
Atmospheric forcing applied as ocean model boundary conditions can have a critical impact on the quality of ocean forecasts. This paper assesses the sensitivity of an eddy-resolving (1.5 km resolution) regional ocean model of the north-west European Shelf (NWS) to the choice of atmospheric forcing and atmosphere–ocean coupling. The analysis is focused on a month-long simulation experiment for July 2014 and evaluation of simulated sea surface temperature (SST) in a shallow near-coastal region to the south-west of the UK (Celtic Sea and western English Channel). Observations of the ocean and atmosphere are used to evaluate model results, with a particular focus on the L4 ocean buoy from the Western Channel Observatory as a rare example of co-located data above and below the sea surface. The impacts of differences in the atmospheric forcing are illustrated by comparing results from an ocean model run in forcing mode using operational global-scale numerical weather prediction (NWP) data with an ocean model run forced by a convective-scale regional atmosphere model. The value of dynamically representing feedbacks between the atmosphere and ocean state is assessed via the use of these model components within a fully coupled ocean–wave–atmosphere system. Simulated SSTs show considerable sensitivity to atmospheric forcing and to the impact of model coupling in near-coastal areas. A warm ocean bias relative to in situ observations in the simulation forced by global-scale NWP (0.7 K in the model domain) is shown to be reduced (to 0.4 K) via the use of the 1.5 km resolution regional atmospheric forcing. When simulated in coupled mode, this bias is further reduced (by 0.2 K). Results demonstrate much greater variability of both the surface heat budget terms and the near-surface winds in the convective-scale atmosphere model data, as might be expected. Assessment of the surface heat budget and wind forcing over the ocean is challenging due to a scarcity of observations. However, it can be demonstrated that the wind speed over the ocean simulated by the convective-scale atmosphere did not agree as well with the limited number of observations as the global-scale NWP data did. Further partially coupled experiments are discussed to better understand why the degraded wind forcing does not detrimentally impact on SST results.