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Christopher S. Meinen
and
Michael J. McPhaden

Abstract

This paper describes observed changes in surface winds, sea surface temperature (SST), and the volume of water warmer than 20°C (WWV) in the equatorial Pacific Ocean for the period 1980–99. The purpose is to test recent hypotheses about the relationship between variations in WWV and the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle. The results confirm inferences based on theory, models, and previous empirical analyses using proxy data (namely sea level) that ENSO involves a recharge and discharge of WWV along the equator and that the cyclic nature of ENSO results from a disequilibrium between zonal winds and zonal mean thermocline depth. The authors also find that the magnitude of ENSO SST anomalies is directly related to the magnitude of zonal mean WWV anomalies. Furthermore, for a given change in equatorial WWV, the corresponding warm El Niño SST anomalies are larger than the corresponding cold La Niña anomalies. This asymmetry between the warm and cold phases of the ENSO cycle implies differences in the relative importance of physical processes controlling SST during El Niño and La Niña events.

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