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What caused recent shifts in tropical Pacific decadal sea-level trends?

TitleWhat caused recent shifts in tropical Pacific decadal sea-level trends?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsPiecuch C.G, Thompson P.R, Ponte R.M, Merrifield M.A, Hamlington B.D
Date Published2019/10
Type of ArticleArticle; Early Access
ISBN Number2169-9275
Accession NumberWOS:000495549500001
Keywordsacceleration; anomalies; circulation; decadal variability; heat; model; ocean; oceanography; origins; pacific; patterns; sea-level change; sea-level variability; state estimation; tropical; variability; warming hiatus

Satellite altimetry reveals substantial decadal variability in sea level zeta across the tropical Pacific during 1993-2015. An ocean state estimate that faithfully reproduces the observations is used to elucidate the origin of these low-frequency tropical Pacific zeta variations. Analysis of the hydrostatic equation reveals that recent decadal zeta changes in the tropical Pacific are mainly thermosteric in nature, related to changes in upper-ocean heat content. A forcing experiment performed with the numerical model suggests that anomalous wind stress was an important driver of the relevant heat storage and thermosteric variation. Closed budget diagnostics further clarify that the wind-stress-related thermosteric zeta variation resulted from the joint actions of large-scale ocean advection and local surface heat flux, such that advection controlled the budget over shorter, intraseasonal to interannual time scales, and local surface heat flux became increasingly influential at longer decadal periods. In particular, local surface heat flux was important in contributing to a recent reversal of decadal zeta trends in the tropical Pacific. Contributions from local surface heat flux partly reflect damping latent heat flux tied to wind-stress-driven sea-surface-temperature variations.

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