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Germán Poveda
and
Oscar J. Mesa

Abstract

The hydroclimatology of tropical South America is strongly coupled to low-frequency large-scale oceanicand atmospheric phenomena occurring over the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. In particular, El Niño–SouthernOscillation (ENSO) affects climatic and hydrologic conditions on timescales ranging from seasons to decades.With some regional differences in timing and amplitude, tropical South America exhibits negative rainfall andstreamflow anomalies in association with the low–warm phase of the Southern Oscillation (El Niño), and positiveanomalies with the high–cold phase. Such dependence is illustrated in the hydroclimatology of Colombia throughseveral empirical analyses: correlation, empirical orthogonal functions, principal component, and spectral analysis, and discussion of the major physical mechanisms. Observations show that ENSO’s effect on river dischargesoccurs progressively later for rivers toward the east in Colombia and northern South America. Also, the impactsof La Niña are more pronounced than those of El Niño. Evidence is also presented to show that processes arisingfrom land–atmosphere interactions in tropical South America affect sea surface temperatures in the Caribbeanand the north tropical Atlantic. A hypothesis is formulated to explain these feedback mechanisms throughperturbations in precipitation, soil moisture, and evapotranspiration over the continent. To begin with, the occurrence of both phases of ENSO affects all those fields. The proposed mechanisms would constitute the “land–atmosphere” bridge connecting Pacific and Atlantic SST anomalies.

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