With the recognition that equatorial Pacific precipitation anomalies are fundamental to global teleconnections during ENSO winters, the present research applies vertically integrated moist static energy (MSE) budget analysis to historical simulations of CMIP5 models. Process-based assessment is carried out to understand if the models capture the differing processes that account for regional precipitation anomalies along the equatorial Pacific and to isolate few leading processes that account for diversified precipitation response to similar SST forcing and vice-versa. To assess SST biases in CMIP5, analysis is also carried out in AMIP5 solutions.

Diagnostics reveal that models have limitations in representing the “sign” of MSE sources and sinks and, even if they do, compensating errors dominate the budget. The diverse response in precipitation depends on model parameterizations that determine anomalous net radiative flux divergence in the column, free troposphere moisture, and MSE export out of the column, although these processes are not independent. Diagnostics derived from AMIP5 solutions support the findings from CMIP5. The implication is that biases in representing any one of these processes are expected to imprint on others, and acknowledges the tight connections among moisture-convection-radiation.

CMIP5 models have limitations in representing the basic states in SST and precipitation over the Niño3.4 region, and the different convective regimes over the equatorial central and eastern Pacific regions with implications to ENSO. Study limitations are that MSE sources/sinks depend on parameterizations and their interactions making it difficult to isolate one particular process for attribution. Budgets estimated from monthly anomalies do not capture contributions from high-frequency variability that are vital in closing the budgets.


This article is included in the Process-Oriented Model Diagnostics Special Collection.