2023 journal article
Atmospheric forcing of the Hatteras coastal ocean during 2017-2018: The PEACH program
DYNAMICS OF ATMOSPHERES AND OCEANS, 102.
The Hatteras coastal ocean is centrally located along the east coast of the 48 contiguous United States, offshore of Cape Hatteras in a complex land/ocean/atmosphere region where major ocean currents of differing temperatures and salinities meet and interact, where the atmosphere fluctuates on a wide range of time scales, and where atmosphere-ocean interactions vary both spatially and temporally. The Gulf Stream current typically leaves its contact with the continental margin here. Continental shelf currents from the north and from the south converge here, resulting in a net shelf-to-ocean transport of shelf waters that carry important water properties and constituents. The two major drivers of these shelf currents and exchanges are the atmosphere and the oceanic Gulf Stream. Atmospheric driving of the Hatteras coastal ocean is through surface wind stress and heat flux across the air-sea interface. The complexity and importance of this region motivated the NSF-sponsored PEACH research program during 2017–2018 (PEACH: Processes driving Exchange At Cape Hatteras). In this paper, we utilize the substantial number of observations available during PEACH to describe the atmospheric forcing of the ocean then. Atmospheric conditions are described in terms of two seasons: the warm season (May to mid-September), with predominantly mild northeastward winds punctuated by occasional tropical cyclones (TCs); and the cool season (mid-September through April), with a nearly continuous, northeastward progression of energetic extratropical cyclones (ETCs) through the region. Cool season ETCs force the region with strong wind stress and ocean-to-atmosphere heat flux episodes, each with a time-scale of several days. Wind stress fluctuation magnitudes typically exceed mean stress magnitudes in each season by a factor of 3–5. These stresses account for just over 40% of the total current variability in the region, showing the wind to be a major driver of the ocean here. Atmosphere-ocean heat flux is typically into the ocean throughout the warm season (~100 W m-2); it is essentially always out of the ocean during the cool season (~500 W m-2 or more). New results herein include: southward intraseasonal oscillations of the jet stream’s position drove the strongest ETCs (including one “bomb” cyclone); and during the 41 years leading up to and including PEACH, the season-averaged number and strength of atmospheric cyclones passing over the Hatteras coastal ocean have shown little long-term change. Looking ahead, the NSF Pioneer Array is scheduled to be relocated to the northern portion of the Hatteras coastal ocean in 2024, and the NASA SWOT satellite has begun its ocean topography mission, which has a ground-track cross-over here.