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Geophysical Monograph Series



  • Ocean-atmosphere interaction
  • Climatic changes



A global survey of ocean-atmosphere interaction and climate variability

C. Wang, S.-P. Xie, and J. A. Carton

The interaction of the ocean and atmosphere plays an important role in shaping the climate and its variations. This chapter reviews the current state of knowledge of air-sea interaction and climate variations over the global ocean. The largest source of climate variability in the instrumental record is El Niño—Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which extends its reach globally through the ability of the atmosphere to bridge ocean basins. The growth of ENSO owes its existence to a positive ocean—atmosphere feedback mechanism (originally envisioned by J. Bjerknes) that involves the interaction of ocean dynamics, atmospheric convection, and winds in the equatorial Pacific. The Bjerknes feedback and the resultant equatorial zonal mode of climate variability are a common feature to all three tropical oceans despite differences in dimension, geometry and mean climate. In addition to this zonal mode, the tropics also support a meridional mode, whose growth is due to a thermodynamic feedback mechanism involving the interaction of the cross—equatorial gradient of properties such as sea surface temperature and displacements of the seasonal intertropical convergence zone. This meridional mode is observed in the tropical Atlantic, with some evidence of its existence in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. In the extratropics, in contrast, the sources of climate variability are more distributed. Much of climate variability may be explained by the presence of white noise due to synoptic weather disturbances whose impact on climate at longer timescales is due to the integrating effect of the ocean's ability to store and release heat. Still, there is some evidence of a more active role for the mid—latitude ocean in climate variability, especially near major ocean currents/fronts. Finally, various atmospheric and oceanic bridges that link different ocean basins are discussed, along with their implications for paleoclimate changes and the current global warming.

Citation: Wang, C., S.-P. Xie, and J. A. Carton (2004), A global survey of ocean-atmosphere interaction and climate variability, in Earth's Climate: The Ocean-Atmosphere Interaction, Geophys. Monogr. Ser., vol. 147, edited by C. Wang, S.-P. Xie, and J. A. Carton, pp. 1–19, AGU, Washington, D. C., doi:10.1029/147GM01.

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