Drivers of atmospheric and oceanic surface temperature variance: A frequency domain approach

Paige E. Martin*, Brian K. Arbic, Andrew M.C.C. Hogg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Ocean–atmosphere coupling modifies the variability of Earth’s climate over a wide range of time scales. However, attribution of the processes that generate this variability remains an outstanding problem. In this article, air–sea coupling is investigated in an eddy-resolving, medium-complexity, idealized ocean–atmosphere model. The model is run in three configurations: fully coupled, partially coupled (where the effect of the ocean geostrophic velocity on the sea surface temperature field is minimal), and atmosphere-only. A surface boundary layer temperature variance budget analysis computed in the frequency domain is shown to be a powerful tool for studying air–sea interactions, as it differentiates the relative contributions to the variability in the temperature field from each process across a range of time scales (from daily to multidecadal). This method compares terms in the ocean and atmosphere across the different model configurations to infer the underlying mechanisms driving temperature variability. Horizontal advection plays a dominant role in driving temperature variance in both the ocean and the atmosphere, particularly at time scales shorter than annual. At longer time scales, the temperature variance is dominated by strong coupling between atmosphere and ocean. Furthermore, the Ekman transport contribution to the ocean’s horizontal advection is found to underlie the low-frequency behavior in the atmosphere. The ocean geostrophic eddy field is an important driver of ocean variability across all frequencies and is reflected in the atmospheric variability in the western boundary current separation region at longer time scales.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3975-3990
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2021


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