During El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events, the atmospheric response to sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the equatorial Pacific influences ocean conditions over the remainder of the globe. This connection between ocean basins via the “atmospheric bridge” is reviewed through an examination of previous work augmented by analyses of 50 years of data from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction–National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCEP–NCAR) reanalysis project and coupled atmospheric general circulation (AGCM)–mixed layer ocean model experiments. Observational and modeling studies have now established a clear link between SST anomalies in the equatorial Pacific with those in the North Pacific, north tropical Atlantic, and Indian Oceans in boreal winter and spring. ENSO-related SST anomalies also appear to be robust in the western North Pacific during summer and in the Indian Ocean during fall. While surface heat fluxes are the key component of the atmospheric bridge driving SST anomalies, Ekman transport also creates SST anomalies in the central North Pacific although the full extent of its impact requires further study. The atmospheric bridge not only influences SSTs on interannual timescales but also affects mixed layer depth (MLD), salinity, the seasonal evolution of upper-ocean temperatures, and North Pacific SST variability at lower frequencies. The model results indicate that a significant fraction of the dominant pattern of low-frequency (>10 yr) SST variability in the North Pacific is associated with tropical forcing. AGCM experiments suggest that the oceanic feedback on the extratropical response to ENSO is complex, but of modest amplitude. Atmosphere–ocean coupling outside of the tropical Pacific slightly modifies the atmospheric circulation anomalies in the Pacific–North America (PNA) region but these modifications appear to depend on the seasonal cycle and air–sea interactions both within and beyond the North Pacific Ocean.
Corresponding author address: Michael Alexander, NOAA–CIRES Climate Diagnostics Center, R/CDC1, 325 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80305-3328. Email: email@example.com