Tropical air-sea interaction in general circulation models

J. D. Neelin, M. Latif, M. A.F. Allaart, M. A. Cane, U. Cubasch, W. L. Gates, P. R. Gent, M. Ghil, C. Gordon, N. C. Lau, C. R. Mechoso, G. A. Meehl, J. M. Oberhuber, S. G.H. Philander, P. S. Schopf, K. R. Sperber, K. R. Sterl, T. Tokioka, J. Tribbia, S. E. Zebiak

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An intercomparison is undertaken of the tropical behavior of 17 coupled ocean-atmosphere models in which at least one component may be termed a general circulation model (GCM). The aim is to provide a taxonomy-a description and rough classification-of behavior across the ensemble of models, focusing on interannual variability. The temporal behavior of the sea surface temperature (SST) field along the equator is presented for each model, SST being chosen as the primary variable for intercomparison due to its crucial role in mediating the coupling and because it is a sensitive indicator of climate drift. A wide variety of possible types of behavior are noted among the models. Models with substantial interannual tropical variability may be roughly classified into cases with propagating SST anomalies and cases in which the SST anomalies develop in place. A number of the models also exhibit significant drift with respect to SST climatology. However, there is not a clear relationship between climate drift and the presence or absence of interannual oscillations. In several cases, the mode of climate drift within the tropical Pacific appears to involve coupled feedback mechanisms similar to those responsible for El Niño variability. Implications for coupled-model development and for climate prediction on seasonal to interannual time scales are discussed. Overall, the results indicate considerable sensitivity of the tropical coupled ocean-atmosphere system and suggest that the simulation of the warm-pool/cold-tongue configuration in the equatorial Pacific represents a challenging test for climate model parameterizations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-104
Number of pages32
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1992

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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