Explaining the global distribution of peak-spectrum variability
of sea surface height

Xiaopei Lin





A 14-year satellite observation of sea surface height (SSH) reveals an interesting pattern. Along any latitude, there is a frequency at which the SSH power spectrum peaks, regardless of which hemisphere or oceanic basin. This peak-spectrum frequency is nearly identical to the critical frequency at which the zonal energy propagation of Rossby waves becomes stagnant. The interior ocean adjusts to atmospheric forcing by radiating energy away through Rossby waves. There are two distinct groups of Rossby waves, long ones carry the energy to the west while short ones send the energy to the east. At the critical frequency, these two waves merge and their zonal energy propagation becomes stagnant. Consequently, the energy from atmospheric forcing may accumulates in the ocean interior, and thus results in a spectrum peak.