Articles | Volume 5, issue 4
17 Nov 2009
 | 17 Nov 2009

On the multiple time scales of variability in the Northeast Pacific Ocean

R. Tokmakian

Abstract. The spatial and temporal sea surface height energy distribution of the Northeast Pacific Ocean is described and discussed. Using an altimetric data set covering 15 years (1993–2007), the energy within the 3–9 month band is primarily located within 10° of the coast. In the Gulf of Alaska, this energy signal is on the shelf, while further south, west of the California/Oregon coast, the significant energy in this band is west of the shelf break. In both cases, it is primarily forced by the local wind. Within the 2–3 year band, the signal reflects energy generated by local changes to the wind stress from large atmospheric shifts indicated by the Pacific North American Index and by advective or propagating processes related to El Niño-Southern Oscillation. Over the two 4–6 year periods within this data set, the change is primarily due to the large scale shift in atmospheric systems north of about 30° N which also affect changes in current strengths. Based on the distribution of the energy signal and its variability, a set of three winter-time indices are suggested to characterize the distinct differences in the SSH anomalies in these areas.