Ocean barrier layers' effect on tropical cyclone intensification. Academic Article uri icon


  • Improving a tropical cyclone's forecast and mitigating its destructive potential requires knowledge of various environmental factors that influence the cyclone's path and intensity. Herein, using a combination of observations and model simulations, we systematically demonstrate that tropical cyclone intensification is significantly affected by salinity-induced barrier layers, which are "quasi-permanent" features in the upper tropical oceans. When tropical cyclones pass over regions with barrier layers, the increased stratification and stability within the layer reduce storm-induced vertical mixing and sea surface temperature cooling. This causes an increase in enthalpy flux from the ocean to the atmosphere and, consequently, an intensification of tropical cyclones. On average, the tropical cyclone intensification rate is nearly 50% higher over regions with barrier layers, compared to regions without. Our finding, which underscores the importance of observing not only the upper-ocean thermal structure but also the salinity structure in deep tropical barrier layer regions, may be a key to more skillful predictions of tropical cyclone intensities through improved ocean state estimates and simulations of barrier layer processes. As the hydrological cycle responds to global warming, any associated changes in the barrier layer distribution must be considered in projecting future tropical cyclone activity.

published proceedings

  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

altmetric score

  • 49.872

author list (cited authors)

  • Balaguru, K., Chang, P., Saravanan, R., Leung, L. R., Xu, Z., Li, M., & Hsieh, J.

citation count

  • 167

complete list of authors

  • Balaguru, Karthik||Chang, Ping||Saravanan, R||Leung, L Ruby||Xu, Zhao||Li, Mingkui||Hsieh, Jen-Shan

publication date

  • September 2012