Atmospheric freshwater sources for eastern Pacific surface salinity

Author: Hemerson E. Tonin

Tonin, Hemerson E., 2006 Atmospheric freshwater sources for eastern Pacific surface salinity, Flinders University, School of Chemical and Physical Sciences

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The remarkable salinity difference between the upper Pacific and Atlantic Oceans is often explained through net export of water vapour across Central America. To investigate this mechanism a study of salinity signals in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean current system was made looking at responses to fresh water input from two sources (local versus remote - Atlantic Ocean) as well as a combination of the two. Statistical analyses (Empirical Orthogonal Functions, Single Value Decomposition and Wavelet analysis) were used to split the main sources of the atmospheric freshwater input into local and remote contributions and to quantify both contributions. The remote source was assumed to have been transported over Central America from the Atlantic Ocean as an atmospheric freshwater flux, whereas the local source originated in the Pacific Ocean itself. The analysis suggests that 74% of the total variance in precipitation over the tropical eastern Pacific is due to water vapour transport from the Atlantic. It also demonstrates strong influence of ENSO events, with maximum correlation at a two months time lag. During La Nińa periods the precipitation variance is more closely related to water vapour transport across Central America (the remote source), while during El Nińo periods it is more closely related to the water vapour transport by Southerly winds along the west coast of South America (the local source). The current and temperature fields provided by the Modular Ocean Model (version 2) were used to study the changes in the salinity field when freshwater was added to or removed from the model. ECMWF ERA-40 data taken from the ECMWF data server was used to determine the atmospheric flux of freshwater at the ocean surface, in the form of evaporation minus precipitation (E-P). The Mixed Layer Depth (MLD) computed from temperature and salinity fields determines to what depth the salinity's dilution/concentration takes place for every grid point. Each MLD was calculated from the results of the previous time step, and the water column was considered well mixed from the surface to this depth. The statistical relationships were used to reconstruct the precipitation over the tropical eastern Pacific. A numerical ocean model, which uses currents and temperature from a global ocean model and is forced by precipitation, was used to study the ocean's response to either the remote or the local source acting in isolation. Through time lag correlation analysis of the sea surface salinity anomalies produced by the variation in the reconstructed precipitation fields, it is found that the anomaly signals of salinity propagate westward along the Equator at a rate of approximately 0.25 m.s-1 (6.1 degrees per month).

Keywords: eastern Pacific Ocean,surface salinity,ENSO,atmospheric transport of freshwater,atmospheric cells of circulation,variability of the surface salinity,coupling between the surface salinity and the ENSO cycle,coupling between the surface salinity and the atmospheric transport of freshwater

Subject: Earth sciences thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2006
School: School of Chemical and Physical Sciences
Supervisor: Prof. Matthias Tomczak and Dr. Meghan Francis Cronin