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Influence of high latitude anomalies on tropical climate phenomena and global climate

Blaker, A. (2006) Influence of high latitude anomalies on tropical climate phenomena and global climate University of Southampton, Faculty of Engineering Science and Mathematics, School of Ocean and Earth Sciences, Doctoral Thesis , 164pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)


The tropical ocean and atmosphere are a highly active and very important region of the globe. Climate phenomena such as El Ni˜no (Philander, 1990), the Tropical Atlantic Dipole, and the Indian Ocean Dipole, play an important role in global climate variability. The tropical atmospheric boundary layer is very sensitive to even small changes in the sea surface temperature (SST). Small SST anomalies in the tropics can lead to shifts in the large scale convection cells and result in atmospheric heating. There is potential for positive feedback between the tropical ocean and atmosphere.
Ocean waves are capable of propagating long distances very fast. Barotropic waves (adjustments in free surface height) can propagate round the globe within days. Baroclinic waves, propagating along the thermocline are able to cross the equatorial Atlantic in 2 – 3 months. This work shows the potential for ocean wave propagation to influence global climate, by linking high latitude anomalies to tropical climate phenomena.
The first part of this thesis is a detailed examination of the “Tropical Atlantic Dipole” (TAD). Analysis of model data shows a dipole pattern in the SST, with strong cross-equatorial asymmetry in the surface mixed layer. Below the mixed layer the pattern becomes symmetric, and Kelvin and Rossby wave like adjustment can be seen to occur. However, the timeseries is not sufficiently long to provide confidence in resolving the power spectrum, and as such the results are inconclusive. The complexity of the model makes it difficult to identify the mechanism(s) which are responsible for driving the dipole. An idealised basin model is used to examine high latitude anomalies which create equatorward propagating coastal Kelvin waves as a possible driving mechanism for the TAD. The results show that coastal Kelvin wave propagation can quickly transmit a signal from the high latitude anomaly to the equator, and equatorial Kelvin and Rossby wave propagation can quickly influence the entire tropical ocean. This suggests that forcing of the TAD may come from higher latitudes, although it is still not fully understood how a symmetric sub-surface signal can become asymmetric at the surface. Restoring surface boundary conditions limit the response of the model, restricting the formation of a TAD. A similar experiment, using an idealised coupled model configuration is suggested, but not possible in the time available.
The second part of this thesis looks in detail at the role of the ocean in rapidly transmitting a high latitude response to the equator, using an existing coupled climate model configured with realistic land geometry and bottom topography. Simulations of a salinity anomaly in the Southern Ocean show that it is possible to create an equatorial response in SST within a month, with SST anomalies of 2.5± after 6 months. Barotropic Kelvin and Rossby wave propagation is shown to be important in creating such a rapid equatorial response. Two points that are identified from this experiment are examined in further detail using an idealised basin model. Firstly, a mechanism for energy exchange within the equatorial waveguide is tested. Results suggest that it is not the mechanism responsible for the signals seen in the coupled climate model. Secondly, idealised model integrations confirm that transmission of signals along topographic ridges is possible. Signals strong enough to excite equatorward coastal Kelvin wave propagation are able to use topography to cross the Southern Ocean and reach the coast of Australia.

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Published date: September 2006
Organisations: University of Southampton


Local EPrints ID: 45991
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Date deposited: 08 May 2007
Last modified: 17 Jul 2017 15:09

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Author: A. Blaker

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