El Niño–La Niña Asymmetry in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Simulations

Soon-Il An International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii

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Yoo-Geun Ham School of Earth and Environmental Science, Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea

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Jong-Seong Kug School of Earth and Environmental Science, Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea

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Fei-Fei Jin Department of Meteorology, The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida

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In-Sik Kang School of Earth and Environmental Science, Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea

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Abstract

The El Niño–La Niña asymmetry was estimated in the 10 different models participating in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP). Large differences in the “asymmetricity” (a variance-weighted skewness) of SST anomalies are found between models and observations. Most of the coupled models underestimate the nonlinearity and only a few exhibit the positively skewed SST anomalies over the tropical eastern Pacific as seen in the observation. A significant association between the nonlinear dynamical heating (NDH) and asymmetricity in the model–ENSO indices is found, inferring that asymmetricity is caused mainly by NDH. Among the 10 models, one coupled GCM simulates the asymmetricity of the tropical SST realistically, and its simulation manifests a strong relationship between the intensity and the propagating feature of ENSO—the strong ENSO events moving eastward and the weak ENSO events moving westward—which is consistent with the observation. Interestingly, the coupled general circulation models, of which the ocean model is based on the one used by Bryan and Cox, commonly showed the reasonably positive skewed ENSO.

The decadal changes in the skewness, variance, and NDH of the model-simulated ENSO are also observed. These three quantities over the tropical eastern Pacific are significantly correlated to each other, indicating that the decadal change in ENSO variability is closely related to the nonlinear process of ENSO. It is also found that these decadal changes in ENSO variability are related to the decadal variation in the tropical Pacific SST, implying that the decadal change in the El Niño–La Niña asymmetry could manifest itself as a rectified change in the background state.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Soon-Il An, International Pacific Research Center, SOEST, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI 96822. Email: sian@hawaii.edu

Abstract

The El Niño–La Niña asymmetry was estimated in the 10 different models participating in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP). Large differences in the “asymmetricity” (a variance-weighted skewness) of SST anomalies are found between models and observations. Most of the coupled models underestimate the nonlinearity and only a few exhibit the positively skewed SST anomalies over the tropical eastern Pacific as seen in the observation. A significant association between the nonlinear dynamical heating (NDH) and asymmetricity in the model–ENSO indices is found, inferring that asymmetricity is caused mainly by NDH. Among the 10 models, one coupled GCM simulates the asymmetricity of the tropical SST realistically, and its simulation manifests a strong relationship between the intensity and the propagating feature of ENSO—the strong ENSO events moving eastward and the weak ENSO events moving westward—which is consistent with the observation. Interestingly, the coupled general circulation models, of which the ocean model is based on the one used by Bryan and Cox, commonly showed the reasonably positive skewed ENSO.

The decadal changes in the skewness, variance, and NDH of the model-simulated ENSO are also observed. These three quantities over the tropical eastern Pacific are significantly correlated to each other, indicating that the decadal change in ENSO variability is closely related to the nonlinear process of ENSO. It is also found that these decadal changes in ENSO variability are related to the decadal variation in the tropical Pacific SST, implying that the decadal change in the El Niño–La Niña asymmetry could manifest itself as a rectified change in the background state.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Soon-Il An, International Pacific Research Center, SOEST, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI 96822. Email: sian@hawaii.edu

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