The Indian Ocean exhibits strong variability on a number of time scales, including prominent intraseasonal variations in both the atmosphere and ocean. Of particular interest is the south tropical Indian Ocean thermocline ridge, a region located between 12° and 5°S, which exhibits prominent variability in sea surface temperature (SST) due to dominant winds that raise the thermocline and shoal the mixed layer. In this paper, submonthly (less than 30 day) cooling events in the thermocline ridge region are diagnosed with observations and models, and are related to large-scale conditions in the Indo-Pacific region. Observations from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Microwave Imager (TMI) satellite were used to identify 16 cooling events in the period 1998-2007, which on average cannot be fully accounted for by air-sea enthalpy fluxes. Analysis of observations and a hierarchy of models, including two coupled global climate models (GFDL CM2.1 and GFDL CM2.4), indicates that ocean dynamical changes are important to the cooling events. For extreme cooling events (above 2.5 standard deviations), air-sea enthalpy fluxes account for approximately 50% of the SST signature, and oceanic processes cannot in general be neglected. For weaker cooling events (1.5-2.5 standard deviations), air-sea enthalpy fluxes account for a larger fraction of the SST signature. Furthermore, it is found that cooling events are preconditioned by large-scale, low-frequency changes in the coupled ocean-atmosphere system. When the thermocline is unusually shallow in the thermocline ridge region, cooling events are more likely to occur and are stronger; these large-scale conditions are more (less) likely during La Niña (El Niño/Indian Ocean dipole) events. Strong cooling events are associated with changes in atmospheric convection, which resemble the Madden-Julian oscillation, in both observations and the models.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Atmospheric Science