Yearly in situ temperature anomaly data in the North Pacific Ocean for 1961-90 have been analyzed along constant-density surfaces (isopycnals) in order to better describe and understand decadal thermocline variability in the region. Various empirical orthogonal function analyses are performed on isopycnals to depict the dominant three-dimensional patterns. The major finding is of two preferential pathways associated with decadal temperature variability around the subtropical gyre. A subduction pathway, with a large signal in the upper thermocline, originates from the North Pacific central-eastern outcrop regions (about 40 degrees N, 150 degrees W) and then basically follows the mean gyre circulation southwestward along isopycnals toward the western Tropics. A subtropical pathway extends from the eastern subtropical-tropical and boundary regions and appears to continue predominantly westward across the southern part of the gyre (between 15 degrees and 30 degrees N) and then along the Kuroshio path toward the midlatitudes. Along these two pathways, thermal anomalies show coherent phase relationships to one another in the surface layer and in the thermocline around the gyre, with their source regions (variability centers) being out of phase on decadal timescales. Two examples of each type of anomaly pattern can be illustrated for the periods analyzed. In the 1960s, a negative temperature anomaly signal propagated predominantly westward across the subtropics, followed by a subducted warm anomaly from the outcrop region in the early 1970s that subsequently moved southwestward along isopycnals toward the western Tropics. A similar pattern was observed in the late 1970s and in the 1980s but with the opposite sign: a westward propagating positive temperature anomaly signal along the subtropics in the late 1970s through the 1980s, and a subducted cold anomaly in the early 1980s that also made its way southwestward with the expected gyre circulation to the western Tropics in the late 1980s. It is suggested that the southwestward subduction pathway provides a mechanism that connects surface anomalies in the outcrop region to thermocline variations in the western subtropics and in the Tropics, and that the westward subtropical pathway presents a possible link of tropical-subtropical variability to surface temperature anomalies around the Kuroshio and its extension regions, which may further force variations in the overlying atmospheric circulation in the midlatitudes. The results provide an observational basis for verification of theoretical studies and model simulations.
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