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Antonietta Capotondi
and
Bo Qiu

Abstract

The Pacific shallow meridional overturning circulations, known as subtropical cells (STCs), link subduction in the subtropical regions to equatorial upwelling, suggesting the possibility for subtropical winds to influence equatorial sea surface temperatures (SSTs) by altering the STCs’ strength. Indeed, STC variability provides the basis for one of the mechanisms proposed to explain the origin of tropical Pacific decadal variability (TPDV). While the relationship between STC strength, as measured by their subsurface transport convergence, and equatorial SST variations is well documented, the location of the wind forcing most influential on STC variability is still being debated. In this study, we use the output of an ocean reanalysis to examine tropical Pacific Ocean surface and subsurface decadal changes during recent decades and relate them to STC variability and surface wind forcing. Our results indicate that the STC interior transport at each latitude is largely controlled by the wind forcing at that latitude rather than induced by remote subtropical wind variations. We also show that the establishment of the anomalous transport at each latitude is associated with the westward propagation of oceanic wind-forced Rossby waves, as part of the ocean adjustment process that also leads to a zonal redistribution of upper-ocean heat content at both interannual and decadal time scales. These results provide guidance for understanding the origin of TPDV by elucidating the underlying dynamics of STC variability and can have practical implications for monitoring STC variability in the tropical Pacific.

Significance Statement

Slow variations of the surface ocean temperature in the tropical Pacific Ocean have been shown to affect the global climate. Our study aims at better understanding the origin of these temperature anomalies by taking a closer look at the upper ocean circulation variability and its relationship with surface wind forcing. Unlike previous studies, which have related the upper ocean circulation changes to wind variations outside the tropical Pacific, we show here that the variations in upper-ocean circulation are primarily driven by local winds. This result not only clarifies which winds are most important, but also suggests a practical approach for monitoring circulation changes from surface observations.

Open access
Antonietta Capotondi
and
Michael A. Alexander

Abstract

Multicentury preindustrial control simulations from six of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC AR4) models are used to examine the relationship between low-frequency precipitation variations in the Great Plains (GP) region of the United States and global sea surface temperatures (SSTs). This study builds on previous work performed with atmospheric models forced by observed SSTs during the twentieth century and extends it to a coupled model context and longer time series. The climate models used in this study reproduce the precipitation climatology over the United States reasonably well, with maximum precipitation occurring in early summer, as observed. The modeled precipitation time series exhibit negative “decadal” anomalies, identified using a 5-yr running mean, of amplitude comparable to that of the twentieth-century droughts. It is found that low-frequency anomalies over the GP are part of a large-scale pattern of precipitation variations, characterized by anomalies of the same sign as in the GP region over Europe and southern South America and anomalies of opposite sign over northern South America, India, and Australia. The large-scale pattern of the precipitation anomalies is associated with global-scale atmospheric circulation changes; during wet periods in the GP, geopotential heights are raised in the tropics and high latitudes and lowered in the midlatitudes in most models, with the midlatitude jets displaced toward the equator in both hemispheres. Statistically significant correlations are found between the decadal precipitation anomalies in the GP region and tropical Pacific SSTs in all the models. The influence of other oceans (Indian and tropical and North Atlantic), which previous studies have identified as potentially important, appears to be model dependent.

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Antonietta Capotondi
,
Prashant D. Sardeshmukh
, and
Lucrezia Ricciardulli

Abstract

El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is commonly viewed as a low-frequency tropical mode of coupled atmosphere–ocean variability energized by stochastic wind forcing. Despite many studies, however, the nature of this broadband stochastic forcing and the relative roles of its high- and low-frequency components in ENSO development remain unclear. In one view, the high-frequency forcing associated with the subseasonal Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) and westerly wind events (WWEs) excites oceanic Kelvin waves leading to ENSO. An alternative view emphasizes the role of the low-frequency stochastic wind components in directly forcing the low-frequency ENSO modes. These apparently distinct roles of the wind forcing are clarified here using a recently released high-resolution wind dataset for 1990–2015. A spectral analysis shows that although the high-frequency winds do excite high-frequency Kelvin waves, they are much weaker than their interannual counterparts and are a minor contributor to ENSO development. The analysis also suggests that WWEs should be viewed more as short-correlation events with a flat spectrum at low frequencies that can efficiently excite ENSO modes than as strictly high-frequency events that would be highly inefficient in this regard. Interestingly, the low-frequency power of the rapid wind forcing is found to be higher during El Niño than La Niña events, suggesting a role also for state-dependent (i.e., multiplicative) noise forcing in ENSO dynamics.

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Antonietta Capotondi
,
Michael A. Alexander
,
Clara Deser
, and
Michael J. McPhaden

Abstract

The output from an ocean general circulation model driven by observed surface forcing (1958–97) is used to examine the evolution and relative timing of the different branches of the Pacific Subtropical–Tropical Cells (STCs) at both interannual and decadal time scales, with emphasis on the 1976–77 climate shift. The STCs consist of equatorward pycnocline transports in the ocean interior and in the western boundary current, equatorial upwelling, and poleward flow in the surface Ekman layer. The interior pycnocline transports exhibit a decreasing trend after the mid-1970s, in agreement with observational transport estimates, and are largely anticorrelated with both the Ekman transports and the boundary current transports at the same latitudes. The boundary current changes tend to compensate for the interior changes at both interannual and decadal time scales. The meridional transport convergence across 9°S and 9°N as well as the equatorial upwelling are strongly correlated with the changes in sea surface temperature (SST) in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. However, meridional transport variations do not occur simultaneously at each longitude, so that to understand the phase relationship between transport and SST variations it is important to consider the baroclinic ocean adjustment through westward-propagating Rossby waves. The anticorrelation between boundary current changes and interior transport changes can also be understood in terms of the baroclinic adjustment process. In this simulation, the pycnocline transport variations appear to be primarily confined within the Tropics, with maxima around 10°S and 13°N, and related to the local wind forcing; a somewhat different perspective from previous studies that have emphasized the role of wind variations in the subtropics.

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Clara Deser
,
Antonietta Capotondi
,
R. Saravanan
, and
Adam S. Phillips

Abstract

Simulations of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon and tropical Atlantic climate variability in the newest version of the Community Climate System Model [version 3 (CCSM3)] are examined in comparison with observations and previous versions of the model. The analyses are based upon multicentury control integrations of CCSM3 at two different horizontal resolutions (T42 and T85) under present-day CO2 concentrations. Complementary uncoupled integrations with the atmosphere and ocean component models forced by observed time-varying boundary conditions allow an assessment of the impact of air–sea coupling upon the simulated characteristics of ENSO and tropical Atlantic variability.

The amplitude and zonal extent of equatorial Pacific sea surface temperature variability associated with ENSO is well simulated in CCSM3 at both resolutions and represents an improvement relative to previous versions of the model. However, the period of ENSO remains too short (2–2.5 yr in CCSM3 compared to 2.5–8 yr in observations), and the sea surface temperature, wind stress, precipitation, and thermocline depth responses are too narrowly confined about the equator. The latter shortcoming is partially overcome in the atmosphere-only and ocean-only simulations, indicating that coupling between the two model components is a contributing cause. The relationships among sea surface temperature, thermocline depth, and zonal wind stress anomalies are consistent with the delayed/recharge oscillator paradigms for ENSO. We speculate that the overly narrow meridional scale of CCSM3's ENSO simulation may contribute to its excessively high frequency. The amplitude and spatial pattern of the extratropical atmospheric circulation response to ENSO is generally well simulated in the T85 version of CCSM3, with realistic impacts upon surface air temperature and precipitation; the simulation is not as good at T42.

CCSM3's simulation of interannual climate variability in the tropical Atlantic sector, including variability intrinsic to the basin and that associated with the remote influence of ENSO, exhibits similarities and differences with observations. Specifically, the observed counterpart of El Niño in the equatorial Atlantic is absent from the coupled model at both horizontal resolutions (as it was in earlier versions of the coupled model), but there are realistic (although weaker than observed) SST anomalies in the northern and southern tropical Atlantic that affect the position of the local intertropical convergence zone, and the remote influence of ENSO is similar in strength to observations, although the spatial pattern is somewhat different.

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Yingying Zhao
,
Matthew Newman
,
Antonietta Capotondi
,
Emanuele Di Lorenzo
, and
Daoxun Sun

Abstract

Teleconnections from the tropics energize variations of the North Pacific climate, but detailed diagnosis of this relationship has proven difficult. Simple univariate methods, such as regression on El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) indices, may be inadequate since the key dynamical processes involved—including ENSO diversity in the tropics, re-emergence of mixed layer thermal anomalies, and oceanic Rossby wave propagation in the North Pacific—have a variety of overlapping spatial and temporal scales. Here we use a multivariate linear inverse model to quantify tropical and extratropical multiscale dynamical contributions to North Pacific variability, in both observations and CMIP6 models. In observations, we find that the tropics are responsible for almost half of the seasonal variance, and almost three-quarters of the decadal variance, along the North American coast and within the Subtropical Front region northwest of Hawaii. SST anomalies that are generated by local dynamics within the northeast Pacific have much shorter time scales, consistent with transient weather forcing by Aleutian low anomalies. Variability within the Kuroshio–Oyashio Extension (KOE) region is considerably less impacted by the tropics, on all time scales. Consequently, without tropical forcing the dominant pattern of North Pacific variability would be a KOE pattern, rather than the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO). In contrast to observations, most CMIP6 historical simulations produce North Pacific variability that maximizes in the KOE region, with amplitude significantly higher than observed. Correspondingly, the simulated North Pacific in all CMIP6 models is shown to be relatively insensitive to the tropics, with a dominant spatial pattern generally resembling the KOE pattern, not the PDO.

Full access
Michael Alexander
,
Jeffrey Yin
,
Grant Branstator
,
Antonietta Capotondi
,
Christophe Cassou
,
Richard Cullather
,
Young-oh Kwon
,
Joel Norris
,
James Scott
, and
Ilana Wainer

Abstract

Extratropical atmosphere–ocean variability over the Northern Hemisphere of the Community Climate System Model version 3 (CCSM3) is examined and compared to observations. Results are presented for an extended control integration with a horizontal resolution of T85 (1.4°) for the atmosphere and land and ∼1° for the ocean and sea ice.

Several atmospheric phenomena are investigated including storms, clouds, and patterns of variability, and their relationship to both tropical and extratropical SST anomalies. The mean storm track, the leading modes of storm track variability, and the relationship of the latter to tropical and midlatitude sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies are fairly well simulated in CCSM3. The positive correlations between extratropical SST and low-cloud anomalies in summer are reproduced by the model, but there are clear biases in the relationship between clouds and the near-surface meridional wind. The model accurately represents the circulation anomalies associated with the jet stream waveguide, the Pacific–North American (PNA) pattern, and fluctuations associated with the Aleutian low, including how the latter two features are influenced by the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). CCSM3 has a reasonable depiction of the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO), but it is not strongly connected to tropical Pacific SSTs as found in nature. There are biases in the position of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and other Atlantic regimes, as the mean Icelandic low in CCSM3 is stronger and displaced southeastward relative to observations.

Extratropical ocean processes in CCSM3, including upper-ocean mixing, thermocline variability, and extratropical to tropical flow within the thermocline, also influence climate variability. As in observations, the model includes the “reemergence mechanism” where seasonal variability in mixed layer depth (MLD) allows SST anomalies to recur in consecutive winters without persisting through the intervening summer. Remote wind stress curl anomalies drive thermocline variability in the Kuroshio–Oyashio Extension region, which influences SST, surface heat flux anomalies, and the local wind field. The interior ocean pathways connecting the subtropics to the equator in both the Pacific and Atlantic are less pronounced in CCSM3 than in nature or in ocean-only simulations forced by observed atmospheric conditions, and the flow from the subtropical North Atlantic does not appear to reach the equator through either the western boundary or interior pathways.

Full access
Clara Deser
,
Adam S. Phillips
,
Michael. A. Alexander
,
Dillon J. Amaya
,
Antonietta Capotondi
,
Michael G. Jacox
, and
James D. Scott

Abstract

The future evolution of sea surface temperature (SST) extremes is of great concern, not only for the health of marine ecosystems and sustainability of commercial fisheries, but also for precipitation extremes fueled by moisture evaporated from the ocean. This study examines the projected influence of anthropogenic climate change on the intensity and duration of monthly SST extremes, hereafter termed marine heat waves (MHWs) and marine cold waves (MCWs), based on initial-condition large ensembles with seven Earth system models. The large number of simulations (30–100) with each model allows for robust quantification of future changes in both the mean state and variability in each model. In general, models indicate that future changes in variability will cause MHW and MCW events to intensify in the northern extratropics and weaken in the tropics and Southern Ocean, and to shorten in duration in many areas. These changes are generally symmetric between MHWs and MCWs, except for the longitude of duration change in the tropical Pacific and sign of duration change in the Arctic. Projected changes in ENSO account for a large fraction of the variability-induced changes in MHW and MCW characteristics in each model and are responsible for much of the intermodel spread as a result of differences in future ENSO behavior. The variability-related changes in MHW and MCW characteristics noted above are superimposed upon large mean-state changes. Indeed, their contribution to the total change in SST during MHW and MCW events is generally <10% except in polar regions where they contribute upward of 50%.

Open access
Céline J. W. Bonfils
,
Benjamin D. Santer
,
Thomas J. Phillips
,
Kate Marvel
,
L. Ruby Leung
,
Charles Doutriaux
, and
Antonietta Capotondi

Abstract

El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is an important driver of regional hydroclimate variability through far-reaching teleconnections. This study uses simulations performed with coupled general circulation models (CGCMs) to investigate how regional precipitation in the twenty-first century may be affected by changes in both ENSO-driven precipitation variability and slowly evolving mean rainfall. First, a dominant, time-invariant pattern of canonical ENSO variability (cENSO) is identified in observed SST data. Next, the fidelity with which 33 state-of-the-art CGCMs represent the spatial structure and temporal variability of this pattern (as well as its associated precipitation responses) is evaluated in simulations of twentieth-century climate change. Possible changes in both the temporal variability of this pattern and its associated precipitation teleconnections are investigated in twenty-first-century climate projections. Models with better representation of the observed structure of the cENSO pattern produce winter rainfall teleconnection patterns that are in better accord with twentieth-century observations and more stationary during the twenty-first century. Finally, the model-predicted twenty-first-century rainfall response to cENSO is decomposed into the sum of three terms: 1) the twenty-first-century change in the mean state of precipitation, 2) the historical precipitation response to the cENSO pattern, and 3) a future enhancement in the rainfall response to cENSO, which amplifies rainfall extremes. By examining the three terms jointly, this conceptual framework allows the identification of regions likely to experience future rainfall anomalies that are without precedent in the current climate.

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Clara Deser
,
Adam S. Phillips
,
Robert A. Tomas
,
Yuko M. Okumura
,
Michael A. Alexander
,
Antonietta Capotondi
,
James D. Scott
,
Young-Oh Kwon
, and
Masamichi Ohba

Abstract

This study presents an overview of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon and Pacific decadal variability (PDV) simulated in a multicentury preindustrial control integration of the NCAR Community Climate System Model version 4 (CCSM4) at nominal 1° latitude–longitude resolution. Several aspects of ENSO are improved in CCSM4 compared to its predecessor CCSM3, including the lengthened period (3–6 yr), the larger range of amplitude and frequency of events, and the longer duration of La Niña compared to El Niño. However, the overall magnitude of ENSO in CCSM4 is overestimated by ~30%. The simulated ENSO exhibits characteristics consistent with the delayed/recharge oscillator paradigm, including correspondence between the lengthened period and increased latitudinal width of the anomalous equatorial zonal wind stress. Global seasonal atmospheric teleconnections with accompanying impacts on precipitation and temperature are generally well simulated, although the wintertime deepening of the Aleutian low erroneously persists into spring. The vertical structure of the upper-ocean temperature response to ENSO in the north and south Pacific displays a realistic seasonal evolution, with notable asymmetries between warm and cold events. The model shows evidence of atmospheric circulation precursors over the North Pacific associated with the “seasonal footprinting mechanism,” similar to observations. Simulated PDV exhibits a significant spectral peak around 15 yr, with generally realistic spatial pattern and magnitude. However, PDV linkages between the tropics and extratropics are weaker than observed.

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