Sea Surface Temperature, Surface Wind Divergence, and Convection over Tropical Oceans

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Science  30 Oct 1987:
Vol. 238, Issue 4827, pp. 657-659
DOI: 10.1126/science.238.4827.657


Large-scale convection over the warm tropical oceans provides an important portion of the driving energy for the general circulation of the atmosphere. Analysis of regional associations between ocean temperature, surface wind divergence, and convection produced two important results. First, over broad regions of the Indian and Pacific oceans, sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in excess of 27.5°C are required for large-scale deep convection to occur. However, SSTs above that temperature are not a sufficient condition for convection and further increases in SST appear to have little effect on the intensity of convection. Second, when SSTs are above 27.5°C, surface wind divergence is closely associated with the presence or absence of deep convection. Although this result could have been expected, it was also found that areas of persistent divergent surface flow coincide with regions where convection appears to be consistently suppressed even when SSTs are above 27.5°C. Thus changes in atmospheric stability caused by remotely forced changes in subsidence aloft may play a major role in regulating convection over warm tropical oceans.