Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Meteorology and Physical Oceanography (Marine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Peter J. Minnett

Second Committee Member

Michael G. Brown

Third Committee Member

Mohamed Iskandarani

Fourth Committee Member

Malgorzata D. Szczodrak

Fifth Committee Member

Alexander Soloviev


There is much evidence that the ocean is heating as a result of an increase in concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere from human activities. GHGs absorb infrared radiation and re-emit infrared radiation back to the ocean’s surface which is subsequently absorbed. However, the incoming infrared radiation is absorbed within the top micrometers of the ocean’s surface which is where the thermal skin layer exists. Thus the incident infrared radiation does not directly heat the upper few meters of the ocean. We are therefore motivated to investigate the physical mechanism between the absorption of infrared radiation and its effect on heat transfer at the air-sea boundary. The hypothesis is that since heat lost through the air-sea interface is controlled by the thermal skin layer, which is directly influenced by the absorption and emission of infrared radiation, the heat flow through the thermal skin layer adjusts to maintain the surface heat loss, assuming the surface heat loss does not vary, and thus modulates the upper ocean heat content. This hypothesis is investigated through utilizing clouds to represent an increase in incoming longwave radiation and analyzing retrieved thermal skin layer vertical temperature profiles from a shipboard infrared spectrometer from two research cruises. The data are limited to night-time, no precipitation and low winds of less than 2 m/s to remove effects of solar radiation, wind-driven shear and possibilities of thermal skin layer disruption. The results show independence of the turbulent fluxes and emitted radiation on the incident radiative fluxes which rules out the immediate release of heat from the absorption of the cloud infrared irradiance back into the atmosphere through processes such as evaporation and increase infrared emission. Furthermore, independence was confirmed between the incoming and outgoing radiative flux which implies the heat sink for upward flowing heat at the air-sea interface is more-or-less fixed. The surplus energy, from absorbing increasing levels of infrared radiation, is found to adjust the curvature of the thermal skin layer such that there is a smaller gradient at the interface between the thermal skin layer and the mixed layer beneath. The vertical conduction of heat from the mixed layer to the surface is therefore hindered while the additional energy within the thermal skin layer is supporting the gradient changes of the skin layer’s temperature profile. This results in heat beneath the thermal skin layer, which is a product of the absorption of solar radiation during the day, to be retained and cause an increase in upper ocean heat content. The accuracy of four published skin layer models were evaluated by comparison with the field results. The results show a need to include radiative effects, which are currently absent, in such models as they do not replicate the findings from the field data and do not elucidate the effects of the absorption of infrared radiation.


remote sensing; ocean thermal skin layer; surface heat fluxes; sea surface temperatures