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Fifth National Climate Assessment - Read the Report

Understanding air–sea processes


Deploying a Climate, Temperature, and Depth Rosette, which measures temperature and salinity of sea water at different depths, as part of the NOAA-led Atlantic Tradewind Ocean-atmosphere Mesoscale Interaction Campaign (ATOMIC). Credit: Richard Marchbanks, CIRES/NOAA.

An interagency field campaign gathered data on interactions between the tropical ocean and atmosphere to improve weather and climate prediction.

Over the tropical ocean, interactions between winds and warm sea water form low-hanging clouds (known as shallow convective clouds) that act as the building blocks for storms. These clouds and air–sea interactions influence weather and climate conditions all over the world, but are poorly represented in models, in part due to a lack of detailed observations that are needed to understand and accurately simulate their behavior. In 2020, a NOAA-led field campaign in the tropical Atlantic Ocean gathered data that will advance understanding of how shallow convective clouds affect larger weather and climate patterns and support improved prediction of weather and climate.

ATOMIC, or the Atlantic Tradewind Ocean-atmosphere Mesoscale Interaction Campaign, launched from the island of Barbados in the Caribbean in January 2020, using multiple platforms to observe air–sea processes over six weeks. Data collected by piloted and autonomous vehicles, buoys, and radar provided a snapshot of how the ocean, atmosphere, and clouds work together to create weather and climate patterns. The research team will also compare measurements to long-term data from NOAA ocean observing sites. Data collected by NASA during the campaign, focused on how variations in salinity affect air–sea processes, are now publicly available via the Physical Oceanography Distributed Data Active Archive Center (PO.DAAC). The collection and use of these new data in process studies and model-based experiments are yielding new discoveries that will guide weather and climate model development.

ATOMIC is supported by NOAA with participation by researchers from NASA, NSF, U.S. universities, and the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology. The campaign is the U.S. contribution to the international EUREC4A field study investigating the role of clouds in climate change.