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Oceanic Origins of Southwest Tropical Atlantic Biases
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The SST bias in the tropical Atlantic exists in the early to latest generation of coupled general circulation models. The maximum bias is not on the equator but at 16°S, the cause of which has not been thoroughly studied. Newly released CMIP5 models provide a useful tool to investigate the contributions of different physical processes to the SST bias in this area in the coupled system. We tested three existing mechanisms and found that: 1) there is no significant relationship between the SST bias and surface heat flux bias; 2) deficient coastal upwelling is a contributing but not the sole source of the bias; and 3) the SST bias is correlated with temperature biases in the upstream equatorial region. The Angola-Benguela front is displaced southward by more than 10° in latitude in many CIMP5 models. Due to the huge temperature contrasts on two sides of the front, such a frontal displacement generates a very strong SST bias. The correlation between the SST bias and frontal location error in this region is significant at the 99% level, demonstrating that the SST bias in coupled GCMs is attributable to the models’ inability to reproduce a realistic position of the front and the consequent erroneous advection by the southward Angola current. This is due to both errors in the simulated surface wind field and systematic errors in ocean models. Ocean reanalysis datasets and a high-resolution regional model simulation suffer a similar pattern of SST biases. Although they produce a more realistic ocean circulation than coarser resolution simulations and alleviate some of the severe SST bias near the front, a warm bias overlies on a northward current to the south of the front, which actually comes from the north of the front through a subsurface passage. We identify a strong subsurface temperature bias caused by a too-deep and diffused simulated thermocline along the coast of Angola, originating from the equatorial thermocline, advected by the Angola Current and an undercurrent beneath the Benguela current, and then brought to the surface by the coastal upwelling along the Benguela coast, contributing to the warm SST bias south of the front.
Xu, Zhao (2013). Oceanic Origins of Southwest Tropical Atlantic Biases. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from