Impact of intra-daily SST variability on ENSO characteristics in a coupled model

Sébastien Masson*, Pascal Terray, Gurvan Madec, Jing Jia Luo, Toshio Yamagata, Keiko Takahashi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Citations (Scopus)


This paper explores the impact of intra-daily Sea Surface Temperature (SST) variability on the tropical large-scale climate variability and differentiates it from the response of the system to the forcing of the solar diurnal cycle. Our methodology is based on a set of numerical experiments based on a fully global coupled ocean-atmosphere general circulation in which we alter (1) the frequency at which the atmosphere sees the SST variations and (2) the amplitude of the SST diurnal cycle. Our results highlight the complexity of the scale interactions existing between the intra-daily and inter-annual variability of the tropical climate system. Neglecting the SST intra-daily variability results, in our CGCM, to a systematic decrease of 15% of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) amplitude. Furthermore, ENSO frequency and skewness are also significantly modified and are in better agreement with observations when SST intra-daily variability is directly taken into account in the coupling interface of our CGCM. These significant modifications of the SST interannual variability are not associated with any remarkable changes in the mean state or the seasonal variability. They can therefore not be explained by a rectification of the mean state as usually advocated in recent studies focusing on the diurnal cycle and its impact. Furthermore, we demonstrate that SST high frequency coupling is systematically associated with a strengthening of the air-sea feedbacks involved in ENSO physics: SST/sea level pressure (or Bjerknes) feedback, zonal wind/heat content (or Wyrtki) feedback, but also negative surface heat flux feedbacks. In our model, nearly all these results (excepted for SST skewness) are independent of the amplitude of the SST diurnal cycle suggesting that the systematic deterioration of the air-sea coupling by a daily exchange of SST information is cascading toward the major mode of tropical variability, i. e. ENSO.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)681-707
Number of pages27
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2012 Jul
Externally publishedYes


  • Coupled climate model
  • Diurnal cycle
  • El Niño-Southern Oscillation
  • Ocean-atmosphere interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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