Upper layer temperature structure of the western tropical Atlantic


  • Robert L. Molinari,

  • Elizabeth Johns


Mean monthly topographies of the 20°C and 10°C isothermal surfaces are used to describe the vertical displacements of the upper and lower thermocline in the western tropical Atlantic. The isotherm topographies are generated from expendable bathythermograph data collected between 1966 and 1993. The topographies confirm, and extend closer to the coast, earlier findings that demonstrate large spatial and temporal variability in the region. For example, the ridge and trough systems observed previously in the interior are shown, and their extension to the western boundary is described. In particular, it is shown that the ridge associated with the North Equatorial Countercurrent (NECC) extends from the interior northwestward along the western boundary, reaching farther north along the boundary in the upper thermocline than in the lower thermocline. South of the equator the northwestern corner of the countercurrent trough is apparent on the lower surface but not on the upper. The annual and semiannual harmonics of the vertical isotherm displacements account on the average for about 60% of total variance on both surfaces. The horizontal structure of the first harmonic amplitude is similar for both surfaces, showing maximum amplitude along the axis of the NECC ridge. Minimum amplitudes are observed to the north along the axis of the countercurrent trough. These distributions are similar to the pattern of the first-harmonic amplitude of the wind stress curl, supporting earlier studies of curl forcing of near-surface current features.