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Relative Contributions of Sea Surface Temperature and Atmospheric Nonlinearities to ENSO Asymmetrical Rainfall Response

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  • 1 aLOCEAN-IPSL, Sorbonne Université (UPMC, Univ Paris 06) CNRS-IRD-MNHN, Paris, France
  • | 2 bMARBEC, University of Montpellier, CNRS, IFREMER, IRD Sète, France
  • | 3 cEIO, Ifremer, ILM, UPF, IRD, Ifremer Tahiti, France
  • | 4 dNCAS-Climate, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom
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Abstract

Here, we investigate the relative roles of atmospheric nonlinearities and asymmetrical sea surface temperature (SST) forcing in the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) asymmetrical rainfall response. Applying a vertically integrated water vapor budget to the ERA5 reanalysis leads to a simple analytical equation for precipitation anomalies. This formulation reveals that ENSO rainfall anomalies are dominated by the linear component of the dynamical term (i.e., the anomalous moisture convergence due to the effect of circulation anomalies on climatological humidity). Nonlinearities in this term and the linear thermodynamical term (i.e., the effect of climatological circulation on humidity anomalies) both strengthen central Pacific rainfall anomalies for both ENSO phases. In contrast, the nonlinear term associated with the effect of anomalous divergence on anomalous moisture (i.e., the mixed term) weakens La Niña dry and strengthens El Niño wet anomalies, in particular during extreme El Niño events when it contributes to about 40% of the eastern Pacific wet anomalies. Overall, atmospheric nonlinearities directly account for ∼70% of the positively skewed ENSO rainfall distribution east of the date line, and ∼50% of the negatively skewed rainfall distribution in the western Pacific. The remaining ENSO rainfall asymmetries are attributable to the asymmetrical ENSO SST pattern. This asymmetrical SST pattern also has contributions from atmospheric nonlinearities through the Bjerknes feedback loop, in addition to those from oceanic nonlinearities. Our estimates are thus likely a lower bound of the contribution of atmospheric nonlinearities to the overall ENSO rainfall asymmetry.

© 2022 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: G. Srinivas, sgangiredl@locean.ipsl.fr

Abstract

Here, we investigate the relative roles of atmospheric nonlinearities and asymmetrical sea surface temperature (SST) forcing in the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) asymmetrical rainfall response. Applying a vertically integrated water vapor budget to the ERA5 reanalysis leads to a simple analytical equation for precipitation anomalies. This formulation reveals that ENSO rainfall anomalies are dominated by the linear component of the dynamical term (i.e., the anomalous moisture convergence due to the effect of circulation anomalies on climatological humidity). Nonlinearities in this term and the linear thermodynamical term (i.e., the effect of climatological circulation on humidity anomalies) both strengthen central Pacific rainfall anomalies for both ENSO phases. In contrast, the nonlinear term associated with the effect of anomalous divergence on anomalous moisture (i.e., the mixed term) weakens La Niña dry and strengthens El Niño wet anomalies, in particular during extreme El Niño events when it contributes to about 40% of the eastern Pacific wet anomalies. Overall, atmospheric nonlinearities directly account for ∼70% of the positively skewed ENSO rainfall distribution east of the date line, and ∼50% of the negatively skewed rainfall distribution in the western Pacific. The remaining ENSO rainfall asymmetries are attributable to the asymmetrical ENSO SST pattern. This asymmetrical SST pattern also has contributions from atmospheric nonlinearities through the Bjerknes feedback loop, in addition to those from oceanic nonlinearities. Our estimates are thus likely a lower bound of the contribution of atmospheric nonlinearities to the overall ENSO rainfall asymmetry.

© 2022 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: G. Srinivas, sgangiredl@locean.ipsl.fr
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