An analysis of tropical instability waves in a numerical model of the Pacific Ocean: 1. Spatial variability of the waves

S. Masina, S. G.H. Philander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Unstable oscillations confined within the mixed layer close to the equator are generated in wind-forced experiments performed in a multilevel general circulation model configured for the tropical Pacific Ocean. The experiments indicate that the waves develop preferentially in the eastern Pacific along the northern temperature front. However, there is clear evidence of a second unstable region along the southern temperature front in the central Pacific. In both regions the instabilities propagate westward, but in the central Pacific their phase speed is considerably smaller. The differences between the wave characteristics in the eastern and central Pacific are closely correlated to the differences in the time mean conditions of the flow. The eastern instabilities have a structure with two peaks in amplitude: one located on the equator and the other a few degrees north of it. Their dispersion characteristics show many similarities to those of tropical instability waves (TIWs) observed in the Pacific Ocean, while the instabilities which grow in the central Pacific do not have any known observed correspondents. We explore the spatial variability of the simulated waves through a wavelet analysis, which provides detailed results on how the period and wavelength of the instabilities change as a function of longitude, latitude, and depth. The wavelet analysis reveals that in the eastern Pacific and close to the surface the TIWs have a phase speed of -48 cm/s, while in the central Pacific they have a phase speed of -11 cm/s. In particular, the change in the phase speed is due to a change in the dominant period of the TIWs: The period of the central Pacific instabilities is considerably longer than the period of the instabilities present in the eastern Pacific.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1999JC900227
Pages (from-to)29613-29635
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue numberC12
StatePublished - Dec 15 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Oceanography


Dive into the research topics of 'An analysis of tropical instability waves in a numerical model of the Pacific Ocean: 1. Spatial variability of the waves'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this