The annual cycle of sea surface temperature (SST) in the tropical Atlantic of a directly coupled atmosphere-ocean general circulation model (CGCM) is decomposed into the parts forced by different surface fluxes (denoted as modes) for the two extreme months of March and August using forced ocean experiments. Almost all previous diagnostic work of the forcing of the SST annual cycle in the Atlantic has concentrated on the near-equatorial region. Here, the annual cycle is examined within the latitude range of 25 degrees S-25 degrees N to facilitate comparison with the interannual variability. The structure of the response to the different surface flux forcings bears some resemblance to the interannual SST modes in the tropical Atlantic, which are diagnosed using rotated empirical orthogonal function (REOF) analysis. Diagnosis of the forcing of the annual cycle modes and the interannual modes shows that they do not always have a common cause. Hence, the simple interpretation that the leading interannual modes are perturbations to the annual cycle is not always valid.In particular, the equatorial SST annual cycle mode is primarily driven by variations in vertical velocity while the equatorial interannual mode is associated with eastward-propagating thermocline anomalies and is forced by both thermocline anomalies and vertical velocity anomalies. As for the interannual modes, there exist off-equatorial annual cycle modes in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. The annual cycle off-equatorial mode in both hemispheres is shown to be primarily driven by heat flux variations. The Southern Hemisphere interannual mode is primarily driven by heat flux variations while the Northern Hemisphere interannual mode shows a strong influence of thermocline depth anomalies. In addition, the Southern Hemisphere interannual mode is centered about 10 degrees south of the annual cycle mode. An interannual mode that has maximum variability along the South American coast south of the equator is shown to be associated with thermocline depth anomalies. This interannual mode has no analog in the annual cycle modes.The coupled model simulation of the annual cycle is found to be fairly realistic so that the results presented here could have applicability to the observed Atlantic.
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