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Testing Simple Models of ENSO

Carlos R. MechosoDepartment of Atmospheric Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California

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J. David NeelinDepartment of Atmospheric Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California

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Jin-Yi YuDepartment of Atmospheric Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California

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Abstract

The realistic simulation of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), coupled atmosphere–ocean general circulation model (CGCM) is used to test two simple theoretical models of the phenomenon: the recharge oscillator model of Jin and the delayed oscillator model of Schopf, Suarez, Battisti, and Hirst (SSBH). The target for the simple models is provided by the CGCM results prefiltered with singular spectrum analysis to extract the leading oscillatory mode. In its simplest form, the Jin model can be reduced to two first ordinary differential equations. If the parameters of the model are fit in this reduced form, it appears to capture the period of the CGCM oscillatory mode. If the Jin model is instead fit using the individual physical balances that are used to derive it, substantial misfits to the CGCM are encountered. The SSBH model can likewise be expressed either in a condensed form or a larger set of individual physical balances with highly analogous results.

It is shown that the misfits in both simple models can be greatly reduced by introducing a spinup timescale for wind stress relative to eastern equatorial Pacific SST. In the CGCM, this spinup time appears to be associated with a combination of atmospheric and ocean mixed layer processes in a way consistent with the “mixed mode” regime discussed by Syu and Neelin, which is not included in the Jin and SSBH models. These appear indistinguishable in this analysis, although the latter is more sensitive to fitting.

This paper provides a bridge between work on ENSO by theoreticians and numerical modelers. The CGCM results validate the conceptual framework of the simple models by demonstrating that they can provide a plausible representation of ENSO with realistic sets of parameters. The results also suggest that, in terms of realistic ENSO variability, the framework of the simple models can be made substantially more complete by including the adjustment time between wind stress and eastern Pacific SST required by the coupled spinup of the atmosphere and the ocean mixed layer processes outside this region.

Corresponding author address: C. R. Mechoso, Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1565. Email: mechoso@atmos.ucla.edu

Abstract

The realistic simulation of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), coupled atmosphere–ocean general circulation model (CGCM) is used to test two simple theoretical models of the phenomenon: the recharge oscillator model of Jin and the delayed oscillator model of Schopf, Suarez, Battisti, and Hirst (SSBH). The target for the simple models is provided by the CGCM results prefiltered with singular spectrum analysis to extract the leading oscillatory mode. In its simplest form, the Jin model can be reduced to two first ordinary differential equations. If the parameters of the model are fit in this reduced form, it appears to capture the period of the CGCM oscillatory mode. If the Jin model is instead fit using the individual physical balances that are used to derive it, substantial misfits to the CGCM are encountered. The SSBH model can likewise be expressed either in a condensed form or a larger set of individual physical balances with highly analogous results.

It is shown that the misfits in both simple models can be greatly reduced by introducing a spinup timescale for wind stress relative to eastern equatorial Pacific SST. In the CGCM, this spinup time appears to be associated with a combination of atmospheric and ocean mixed layer processes in a way consistent with the “mixed mode” regime discussed by Syu and Neelin, which is not included in the Jin and SSBH models. These appear indistinguishable in this analysis, although the latter is more sensitive to fitting.

This paper provides a bridge between work on ENSO by theoreticians and numerical modelers. The CGCM results validate the conceptual framework of the simple models by demonstrating that they can provide a plausible representation of ENSO with realistic sets of parameters. The results also suggest that, in terms of realistic ENSO variability, the framework of the simple models can be made substantially more complete by including the adjustment time between wind stress and eastern Pacific SST required by the coupled spinup of the atmosphere and the ocean mixed layer processes outside this region.

Corresponding author address: C. R. Mechoso, Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1565. Email: mechoso@atmos.ucla.edu

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