The role of local atmospheric forcing on the modulation of the ocean mixed layer depth in reanalyses and a coupled single column ocean model

The role of local atmospheric forcing on the ocean mixed layer depth (MLD) over the global oceans is studied using ocean reanalysis data products and a single-column ocean model coupled to an atmospheric general circulation model. The focus of this study is on how the annual mean and the seasonal cycle of the MLD relate to various forcing characteristics in different parts of the world’s oceans, and how anomalous variations in the monthly mean MLD relate to anomalous atmospheric forcings. By analysing both ocean reanalysis data and the single-column ocean model, regions with different dominant forcings and different mean and variability characteristics of the MLD can be identified. Many of the global oceans’ MLD characteristics appear to be directly linked to the different atmospheric forcing characteristics at different locations. Here, heating and wind-stress are identified as the main drivers; in some, mostly coastal, regions the atmospheric salinity forcing also contributes. The annual mean MLD is more closely related to the annual mean wind-stress and the MLD seasonality is more closely related to the seasonality in heating. The single-column ocean model, however, also points out that the MLD characteristics over most global ocean regions, and in particular in the tropics and subtropics, cannot be maintained by local atmospheric forcings only, but are also a result of ocean dynamics that are not simulated in a single-column ocean model. Thus, lateral ocean dynamics are essential in correctly simulating observed MLD.