Contribution of buoyancy fluxes to tropical Pacific sea level variability

Wagner, Patrick; Scheinert, Markus; Böning, Claus W.

Regional anomalies of steric sea level are either due to redistribution of heat and freshwater anomalies or due to ocean–atmosphere buoyancy fluxes. Interannual to decadal variability in sea level across the tropical Pacific is mainly due to steric variations driven by wind stress anomalies. The importance of air–sea buoyancy fluxes is less clear. We use a global, eddy-permitting ocean model and a series of sensitivity experiments with quasi-climatological momentum and buoyancy fluxes to identify the contribution of buoyancy fluxes for interannual to decadal sea level variability in the tropical Pacific. We find their contribution on interannual timescales to be strongest in the central tropical Pacific at around a 10inline-formula latitude in both hemispheres and also relevant in the very east of the tropical domain. Buoyancy-flux-forced anomalies are correlated with variations driven by wind stress changes, but their effect on the prevailing anomalies and the importance of heat and freshwater fluxes vary locally. In the eastern tropical basin, interannual sea level variability is amplified by anomalous heat fluxes, while the importance of freshwater fluxes is small, and neither has any impact on decadal timescales. In the western tropical Pacific, the variability on interannual and decadal timescales is dampened by both heat and freshwater fluxes. The mechanism involves westward-propagating Rossby waves that are triggered during El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events by anomalous buoyancy fluxes in the central tropical Pacific and counteract the prevailing sea level anomalies once they reach the western part of the basin.

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Wagner, Patrick / Scheinert, Markus / Böning, Claus W.: Contribution of buoyancy fluxes to tropical Pacific sea level variability. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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