The effect of sea surface temperature fronts on atmospheric frontogenesis

Michael J. Reeder, Thomas Spengler, Clemens Spensberger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


It is thought that the sensible heat fluxes associated with sea surface temperature (SST) fronts can affect the genesis and evolution of atmospheric fronts. An analytic model is developed and used to explore this idea. The model predictions are compared with climatologies of atmospheric fronts over the North Atlantic Ocean identified in reanalyses. The climatologies are divided into times when fronts are detected at a point and times when they are not, and compared with model results with and without fronts in their initial conditions. In airstreams with fronts, both the climatologies and model show that adiabatic frontogenesis is much more important than diabatic frontogenesis. They also show that there is weak diabatic frontogenesis associated with differential sensible heating over the SST front and frontolysis either side of it. Because of the upstream and downstream frontolysis, the SST front has relatively little net effect on atmospheric fronts in the model. This result holds true as the width and strength of the SST front changes. In airstreams initially without fronts, a combination of adiabatic and diabatic frontogenesis is important for the local genesis of atmospheric fronts over the SST front. The model shows sustained frontogenesis only when the deformation is sufficiently strong or when the translation speed is low, as advection otherwise weakens the potential temperature gradient. This strong localized diabatic frontogenesis, which is amplified by adiabatic frontogenesis, can result in a front, which is consistent with atmospheric fronts in the region being most frequently located along the SST front.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1753-1771
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • Atmosphere-Ocean Interaction
  • Diabatic Heating
  • Frontogenesis/Frontolysis
  • Fronts
  • North Atlantic Ocean
  • Synoptic-Scale Processes

Cite this