Influence of tropical cyclones on sea surface temperature seasonal cycle and ocean heat transport

Abstract

Recent studies suggested that tropical cyclones (TCs) contribute significantly to the meridional oceanic heat transport by injecting heat into the subsurface through mixing. Here, we estimate the long-term oceanic impact of TCs by inserting realistic wind vortices along observed TCs tracks in a 1/2° resolution ocean general circulation model over the 1978–2007 period. Warming of TCs’ cold wakes results in a positive heat flux into the ocean (oceanic heat uptake; OHU) of ~480 TW, consistent with most recent estimates. However, ~2/5 of this OHU only compensates the heat extraction by the TCs winds during their passage. Another ~2/5 of this OHU is injected in the seasonal thermocline and hence released back to the atmosphere during the following winter. Because of zonal compensations and equatorward transport, only one-tenth of the OHU is actually exported poleward (46 TW), resulting in a marginal maximum contribution of TCs to the poleward ocean heat transport. Other usually neglected TC-related processes however impact the ocean mean state. The residual Ekman pumping associated with TCs results in a sea-level drop (rise) in the core (northern and southern flanks) of TC-basins that expand westward into the whole basin as a result of planetary wave propagation. More importantly, TC-induced mixing and air-sea fluxes cool the surface in TC-basins during summer, while the re-emergence of subsurface warm anomalies warms it during winter. This leads to a ~10 % reduction of the sea surface temperature seasonal cycle within TCs basins, which may impact the climate system.

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Notes

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    The differences between CYCL and CMIX + CDYN + CFLX also includes the shear production associated to horizontal density gradients generated by TCs which are not accounted for in the 1D momentum equation. This shear production has however been diagnosed to be negligible.

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Acknowledgments

Experiments were conducted at the Institut du Développement et des Ressources en Informatique Scientifique (IDRIS) Paris, France. We thank the Nucleus for European Modelling of the Ocean (NEMO) Team for its technical support. The analysis was supported by the project Les enveloppes fluides et l’environnement (LEFE) CYCLOCEAN AO2010-538863 and European MyOcean project EU FP7. We thank Malte Jansen as well as an anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Emmanuel M. Vincent.

Appendix: Contribution of each process to the MHT anomaly

Appendix: Contribution of each process to the MHT anomaly

The linear approximation to separate the respective contribution of the three main TC-induced processes (mixing, dynamical response and surface heat flux) also appears reasonable for heat transport anomalies. The sum of the three processes only underestimate CYCL MHT anomalies by ~10 %. The three processes play a significant role in driving TC-induced MHT changes (Fig. 15). The effect of TC-induced mixing is in agreement with previous studies (Emanuel 2001; Sriver et al. 2008; Korty et al. 2008; Jansen and Ferrari 2009). Vigorous vertical mixing below TCs acts to inject heat downward. This heat stored in subsurface is then exported both poleward and equatorward by the oceanic circulation (Jansen and Ferrari 2009).

Fig. 15
figure15

Meridional Heat Transport anomalies relative to FILT, for TC forcing experiment (CYCL: thick black curve is the same as the blue curve in Fig. 13), TC forcing acting on vertical mixing only (CMIX), on advection only (CDYN) and on surface heat fluxes only (CFLX)

Our analysis also reveals a poorly discussed contribution of TC-induced dynamical response (Scoccimarro et al. 2011). The mean upwelling generated by TCs induces a surface cooling, even in the absence of TC-induced mixing (Fig. 7c). This cooling is compensated by a net surface heat flux into the ocean, and hence a heat transport change. On poleward and equatorward flanks of TC-basins, the opposite effect occurs: the residual TC-induced downwelling induces a net heat loss. This results in a MHT change that has a similar shape but a much larger magnitude than the one due to TC-induced vertical mixing (Fig. 15). This contribution of TC-induced dynamical processes to the MHT is in agreement with previous results by Scoccimarro et al. (2011) who argued that TCs slightly modify the mean ocean circulation with impacts on the MHT.

The contribution of surface heat fluxes acts in opposition to the two previous effects. At the TC passage, surface heat fluxes cool the mixed layer. The subsequent fast warming restores the SST back to its background value, but this warming occurs over a shallower mixed layer, leaving behind a cold anomaly just below it. This cold anomaly is advected poleward and equatorward by the oceanic circulation before being re-entrained in the mixed layer the following winter. The related net surface fluxes are then negative in the re-emergence regions. Their effect on MHT therefore opposes the one related to mixing and advection.

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Vincent, E.M., Madec, G., Lengaigne, M. et al. Influence of tropical cyclones on sea surface temperature seasonal cycle and ocean heat transport. Clim Dyn 41, 2019–2038 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-012-1556-0

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Keywords

  • Tropical cyclones
  • Ocean heat transport
  • Seasonal cycle
  • SST