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An Interhemispheric Tropical Sea Level Seesaw due to El Niño Taimasa

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  • 1 International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Honolulu, Hawaii
  • | 2 International Pacific Research Center, and Department of Oceanography, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Honolulu, Hawaii
  • | 3 Climate Change Research Centre, and ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  • | 4 Department of Meteorology, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Honolulu, Hawaii
  • | 5 CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Aspendale, Australia
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Abstract

During strong El Niño events, sea level drops around some tropical western Pacific islands by up to 20–30 cm. Such events (referred to as taimasa in Samoa) expose shallow reefs, thereby causing severe damage to associated coral ecosystems and contributing to the formation of microatolls. During the termination of strong El Niño events, a southward movement of weak trade winds and the development of an anomalous anticyclone in the Philippine Sea are shown to force an interhemispheric sea level seesaw in the tropical Pacific that enhances and prolongs extreme low sea levels in the southwestern Pacific. Spectral features, in addition to wind-forced linear shallow water ocean model experiments, identify a nonlinear interaction between El Niño and the annual cycle as the main cause of these sea level anomalies.

Corresponding author address: M. J. Widlansky, International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, 1680 East–West Rd., Honolulu, HI 96822. E-mail: mwidlans@hawaii.edu

Abstract

During strong El Niño events, sea level drops around some tropical western Pacific islands by up to 20–30 cm. Such events (referred to as taimasa in Samoa) expose shallow reefs, thereby causing severe damage to associated coral ecosystems and contributing to the formation of microatolls. During the termination of strong El Niño events, a southward movement of weak trade winds and the development of an anomalous anticyclone in the Philippine Sea are shown to force an interhemispheric sea level seesaw in the tropical Pacific that enhances and prolongs extreme low sea levels in the southwestern Pacific. Spectral features, in addition to wind-forced linear shallow water ocean model experiments, identify a nonlinear interaction between El Niño and the annual cycle as the main cause of these sea level anomalies.

Corresponding author address: M. J. Widlansky, International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, 1680 East–West Rd., Honolulu, HI 96822. E-mail: mwidlans@hawaii.edu
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