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Pacific Climate Change and ENSO Activity in the Mid-Holocene

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  • 1 Department of Geography, and Center for Atmospheric Sciences, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California
  • | 2 Department of Oceanography, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
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Abstract

The authors argue that a reduction to the stochastic forcing of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) wrought by Pacific-wide climate changes in response to mid-Holocene (6000 BP) orbital forcing is a viable hypothesis for the observed reduction of ENSO activity during that time. This conclusion is based on comprehensive analysis of an intermediate coupled model that achieves significant reduction to ENSO variance in response to mid-Holocene orbital forcing. The model’s excellent simulation of the tropical Pacific interannual variability lends credibility to the results.

Idealized simulations demonstrate that the mid-Holocene influence is communicated to the tropical Pacific largely via climate changes outside of the tropical Pacific, rather than from insolation changes directly on the tropical Pacific. This is particularly true for changes to the ENSO, but also with changes to the cold tongue annual cycle. Previously proposed mechanisms for teleconnected mid-Holocene ENSO changes, including forcing of ENSO by a strengthened Asian summer monsoon and an increase in the annual cycle forcing on the tropical Pacific leading to a reduction in ENSO activity by frequency entrainment, do not appear to occur in these simulations. Rather, the authors show that the modeled mid-Holocene climate exhibits a pronounced reduction in Pacific meridional mode activity that has been recently shown to be a forcing on ENSO, though the reasons for this reduction are still to be explained.

The contrasting nature of the results compared to previous studies highlights the effect of the prevailing ENSO paradigm on this problem. By showing that an externally forced ENSO model is equally capable of explaining mid-Holocene ENSO reduction as its nonlinear, weakly chaotic counterpart, it is demonstrated that the mid-Holocene ENSO data point cannot yet discriminate between these two paradigms of ENSO.

Corresponding author address: John Chiang, 547 McCone Hall, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-4740. Email: jchiang@atmos.berkeley.edu

Abstract

The authors argue that a reduction to the stochastic forcing of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) wrought by Pacific-wide climate changes in response to mid-Holocene (6000 BP) orbital forcing is a viable hypothesis for the observed reduction of ENSO activity during that time. This conclusion is based on comprehensive analysis of an intermediate coupled model that achieves significant reduction to ENSO variance in response to mid-Holocene orbital forcing. The model’s excellent simulation of the tropical Pacific interannual variability lends credibility to the results.

Idealized simulations demonstrate that the mid-Holocene influence is communicated to the tropical Pacific largely via climate changes outside of the tropical Pacific, rather than from insolation changes directly on the tropical Pacific. This is particularly true for changes to the ENSO, but also with changes to the cold tongue annual cycle. Previously proposed mechanisms for teleconnected mid-Holocene ENSO changes, including forcing of ENSO by a strengthened Asian summer monsoon and an increase in the annual cycle forcing on the tropical Pacific leading to a reduction in ENSO activity by frequency entrainment, do not appear to occur in these simulations. Rather, the authors show that the modeled mid-Holocene climate exhibits a pronounced reduction in Pacific meridional mode activity that has been recently shown to be a forcing on ENSO, though the reasons for this reduction are still to be explained.

The contrasting nature of the results compared to previous studies highlights the effect of the prevailing ENSO paradigm on this problem. By showing that an externally forced ENSO model is equally capable of explaining mid-Holocene ENSO reduction as its nonlinear, weakly chaotic counterpart, it is demonstrated that the mid-Holocene ENSO data point cannot yet discriminate between these two paradigms of ENSO.

Corresponding author address: John Chiang, 547 McCone Hall, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-4740. Email: jchiang@atmos.berkeley.edu

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