Marine Science Faculty Publications

Equatorial Atlantic Ocean Temperature and Current Variations during 1983 and 1984

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The equatorial regions of the Earth's oceans are climatically sensitive ones because of the zonal sea-surface temperature contrasts observed there 1. Equatorial sea-surface temperature normally varies on an annual cycle with the prevailing trade winds but deviations from this cycle may have significant global implications as occurred for example during the 1982-83 Pacific Ocean El Niño/Southern Oscillation event2. Understanding the annual and interannual variability of the tropical oceans has therefore been the goal of several measurement programmes. In the Atlantic Ocean, the Seasonal Response of the Equatorial Atlantic (SEQUAL) Experiment and the Programme Francais Ocean et Climat dans l'Atlantique Equatorial (FOCAL) have provided a basin-wide and synoptic data set over two annual cycles. We present here results from surface moored current meters which were one of several fixed and shipborne measurement systems employed by SEQUAL and FOCAL. We will describe the evolution of the upper ocean thermal and zonal velocity component variations in relation to forcing by the trade winds, show differences observed along the Equator at 28° W and 4° W, and compare the oceans responses at these locations during 1983 and 1984. The synoptic data realizations of these years differed from climatology and these differences are related to the rapidly varying nature and intensity of the wind stress in a given year. Changes in wind stress from year to year result in interannual variability as a modulated annual cycle and 1984, a year of weak winds relative to 1983, offers a case in point. The zonal sea-surface temperature gradient vanished along the Equator in 1984 during the season when it normally would have been a maximum.

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Nature, v. 322, issue 6076, p. 240-243