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Guojian Wang
,
Wenju Cai
, and
Agus Santoso

Abstract

Since 1979, three extreme El Niño events occurred, in 1982/83, 1997/98, and 2015/16, with pronounced impacts that disrupted global weather patterns, agriculture, fisheries, and ecosystems. Although all three episodes are referred to as strong equatorial eastern Pacific (EP) El Niño events, the 2015/16 event is considered a mixed regime of both EP and central Pacific (CP) El Niño. During such extreme events, sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies peak over the EP region, hereafter referred to as an extreme warm El Niño (ExtWarmEN) event. Simultaneously, the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) moves southward to the usually dry and cold Niño-3 region, resulting in dramatic rainfall increases to more than 5 mm day−1 averaged over boreal winter, referred to as an extreme convective El Niño (ExtConEN) event. However, in climate models from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) that are able to simulate both types of events, ExtConEN events are found not to always coincide with ExtWarmEN events and the disassociation becomes more distinct under greenhouse warming when the increased frequency of ExtConEN events is notably larger than that of ExtWarmEN events. The disassociation highlights the role of eastward migration of western Pacific convection and equatorward shift of the South Pacific convergence zone associated with the faster warming over the EP region as a result of greenhouse warming.

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Guojian Wang
,
Wenju Cai
, and
Agus Santoso

Abstract

For many generations, models simulate an Indian Ocean dipole (IOD) that is overly large in amplitude. The possible impact of this systematic bias on climate projections, including a projected frequency increase in extreme positive IOD (pIOD) using a rainfall-based definition, has attracted attention. In particular, a recent study suggests that the increased frequency is an artifact of the overly large IOD amplitude. In contrast, here the opposite is found. Through intermodel ensemble regressions, the present study shows that models producing a high frequency in the present-day climate generate a small future frequency increase. The frequency is associated with the mean equatorial west-minus-east sea surface temperature (SST) gradient: the greater the gradient, the greater the frequency because it is easier to shift convection to the west, which characterizes an extreme pIOD. A greater present-day gradient is associated with a present-day shallower thermocline, lower SSTs, and lower rainfall in the eastern equatorial Indian Ocean (EEIO). Because there is an inherent limit for a maximum rainfall reduction and for the impact on surface cooling by a shallowing of an already shallow mean EEIO thermocline, there is a smaller increase in frequency in models with a shallower present-day EEIO thermocline. Given that a bias of overly shallow EEIO thermocline and overly low EEIO SSTs and rainfall is common in models, the future frequency increase should be underestimated, opposite to an implied overestimation resulting from the overly large IOD amplitude bias. Therefore, correcting the projected frequency from a single bias, without considering other biases that are present, is not appropriate and should be avoided.

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Simon Borlace
,
Wenju Cai
, and
Agus Santoso

Abstract

The amplitude of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) can vary naturally over multidecadal time scales and can be influenced by climate change. However, determining the mechanism for this variation is difficult because of the paucity of observations over such long time scales. Using a 1000-yr integration of a coupled global climate model and a linear stability analysis, it is demonstrated that multidecadal modulation of ENSO amplitude can be driven by variations in the governing dynamics. In this model, the modulation is controlled by the underlying thermocline feedback mechanism, which in turn is governed by the response of the oceanic thermocline slope across the equatorial Pacific to changes in the overlying basinwide zonal winds. Furthermore, the episodic strengthening and weakening of this coupled interaction is shown to be linked to the slowly varying background climate. In comparison with the model statistics, the recent change of ENSO amplitude in observations appears to be still within the range of natural variability. This is despite the apparent warming trend in the mean climate. Hence, this study suggests that it may be difficult to infer a climate change signal from changes in ENSO amplitude alone, particularly given the presently limited observational data.

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Agus Santoso
and
Matthew H. England

Abstract

The variability of Antarctic Intermediate Water (AAIW) in a long-term natural integration of a coupled climate model is examined. The mean state of the climate model includes a realistic representation of AAIW, which appears centered on the σ θ = 27.2 kg m−3 density surface (hereinafter σ 27.2) both in observations and the model. An assessment of ventilation rates on the σ 27.2 surface suggests that this particular climate model forms AAIW in a mostly circumpolar fashion, with a significant contribution from Antarctic Surface Water. This motivates the assessment of oceanic variability along this core AAIW isopycnal surface. Complex empirical orthogonal function analyses decompose the variability into three dominant modes showing circumpolar patterns of zonal wavenumber-1, -2, and -3 on the σ 27.2 density surface. The modes contain eastward-propagating signals at interannual to centennial time scales. Mechanisms forcing this variability are investigated using heat and salt budget analyses at the wintertime outcrop of the σ 27.2 surface. Such an approach ignores the mechanism of AAIW variability sourced by Subantarctic Mode Water variations, which has been examined previously and is, for the most part, beyond the present study. Variability in meltwater rates and atmospheric heat and freshwater fluxes are found to dominate the intermediate water variability at the outcrop region. In contrast, northward Ekman transport of heat and salt plays a significant but localized role in AAIW temperature–salinity variability. There is also an important contribution from the Antarctic Circumpolar Current to the variability at the outcrop region via zonal transport of heat and salt. While the magnitude of AAIW natural variability can be large near the outcrop of the salinity minimum layer, recent observations of cooling and freshening at depth are suggested to be beyond that of the unperturbed system.

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Agus Santoso
and
Matthew H. England

Abstract

The natural variability of the Weddell Sea variety of Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) is examined in a long-term integration of a coupled climate model. Examination of passive tracer concentrations suggests that the model AABW is predominantly sourced in the Weddell Sea. The maximum rate of the Atlantic sector Antarctic overturning (ψ atl) is shown to effectively represent the outflow of Weddell Sea deep and bottom waters and the compensating inflow of Warm Deep Water (WDW). The variability of ψ atl is found to be driven by surface density variability, which is in turn controlled by sea surface salinity (SSS). This suggests that SSS is a better proxy than SST for post-Holocene paleoclimate reconstructions of the AABW overturning rate. Heat–salt budget and composite analyses reveal that during years of high Weddell Sea salinity, there is an increased removal of summertime sea ice by enhanced wind-driven ice drift, resulting in increased solar radiation absorbed into the ocean. The larger ice-free region in summer then leads to enhanced air–sea heat loss, more rapid ice growth, and therefore greater brine rejection during winter. Together with a negative feedback mechanism involving anomalous WDW inflow and sea ice melting, this results in positively correlated θS anomalies that in turn drive anomalous convection, impacting AABW variability. Analysis of the propagation of θS anomalies is conducted along an isopycnal surface marking the separation boundary between AABW and the overlying Circumpolar Deep Water. Empirical orthogonal function analyses reveal propagation of θS anomalies from the Weddell Sea into the Atlantic interior with the dominant modes characterized by fluctuations on interannual to centennial time scales. Although salinity variability is dominated by along-isopycnal propagation, θ variability is dominated by isopycnal heaving, which implies propagation of density anomalies with the speed of baroclinic waves.

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Agus Santoso
,
Alexander Sen Gupta
, and
Matthew H. England

Abstract

The genesis of mixed layer temperature anomalies across the Indian Ocean are analyzed in terms of the underlying heat budget components. Observational data, for which a seasonal budget can be computed, and a climate model output, which provides improved spatial and temporal coverage for longer time scales, are examined. The seasonal climatology of the model heat budget is broadly consistent with the observational reconstruction, thus providing certain confidence in extending the model analysis to interannual time scales. To identify the dominant heat budget components, covariance analysis is applied based on the heat budget equation. In addition, the role of the heat budget terms on the generation and decay of temperature anomalies is revealed via a novel temperature variance budget approach. The seasonal evolution of the mixed layer temperature is found to be largely controlled by air–sea heat fluxes, except in the tropics where advection and entrainment are important. A distinct shift in the importance and role of certain heat budget components is shown to be apparent in moving from seasonal to interannual time scales. On these longer time scales, advection gains importance in generating and sustaining anomalies over extensive regions, including the trade wind and midlatitude wind regimes. On the other hand, air–sea heat fluxes tend to drive the evolution of thermal anomalies over subtropical regions including off northwestern Australia. In the tropics, however, they limit the growth of anomalies. Entrainment plays a role in the generation and maintenance of interannual anomalies over localized regions, particularly off Sumatra and over the Seychelles–Chagos Thermocline Ridge. It is further shown that the spatial distribution of the role and importance of these terms is related to oceanographic features of the Indian Ocean. Mixed layer depth effects and the influence of model biases are discussed.

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Alexander Pui
,
Ashish Sharma
,
Agus Santoso
, and
Seth Westra

Abstract

The relationship between seasonal aggregate rainfall and large-scale climate modes, particularly the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), has been the subject of a significant and ongoing research effort. However, relatively little is known about how the character of individual rainfall events varies as a function of each of these climate modes. This study investigates the change in rainfall occurrence, intensity, and storm interevent time at both daily and subdaily time scales in east Australia, as a function of indices for ENSO, the Indian Ocean dipole (IOD), and the southern annular mode (SAM), with a focus on the cool season months. Long-record datasets have been used to sample a large variety of climate events for better statistical significance. Results using both the daily and subdaily rainfall datasets consistently show that it is the occurrence of rainfall events, rather than the average intensity of rainfall during the events, which is most strongly influenced by each of the climate modes. This is shown to be most likely associated with changes to the time between wet spells. Furthermore, it is found that despite the recent attention in the research literature on other climate modes, ENSO remains the leading driver of rainfall variability over east Australia, particularly farther inland during the winter and spring seasons. These results have important implications for how water resources are managed, as well as how the implications of large-scale climate modes are included in rainfall models to best capture interannual and longer-scale variability.

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Matthew H. England
,
Caroline C. Ummenhofer
, and
Agus Santoso

Abstract

Interannual rainfall extremes over southwest Western Australia (SWWA) are examined using observations, reanalysis data, and a long-term natural integration of the global coupled climate system. The authors reveal a characteristic dipole pattern of Indian Ocean sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies during extreme rainfall years, remarkably consistent between the reanalysis fields and the coupled climate model but different from most previous definitions of SST dipoles in the region. In particular, the dipole exhibits peak amplitudes in the eastern Indian Ocean adjacent to the west coast of Australia. During dry years, anomalously cool waters appear in the tropical/subtropical eastern Indian Ocean, adjacent to a region of unusually warm water in the subtropics off SWWA. This dipole of anomalous SST seesaws in sign between dry and wet years and appears to occur in phase with a large-scale reorganization of winds over the tropical/subtropical Indian Ocean. The wind field alters SST via anomalous Ekman transport in the tropical Indian Ocean and via anomalous air–sea heat fluxes in the subtropics. The winds also change the large-scale advection of moisture onto the SWWA coast. At the basin scale, the anomalous wind field can be interpreted as an acceleration (deceleration) of the Indian Ocean climatological mean anticyclone during dry (wet) years. In addition, dry (wet) years see a strengthening (weakening) and coinciding southward (northward) shift of the subpolar westerlies, which results in a similar southward (northward) shift of the rain-bearing fronts associated with the subpolar front. A link is also noted between extreme rainfall years and the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD). Namely, in some years the IOD acts to reinforce the eastern tropical pole of SST described above, and to strengthen wind anomalies along the northern flank of the Indian Ocean anticyclone. In this manner, both tropical and extratropical processes in the Indian Ocean generate SST and wind anomalies off SWWA, which lead to moisture transport and rainfall extremes in the region. An analysis of the seasonal evolution of the climate extremes reveals a progressive amplification of anomalies in SST and atmospheric circulation toward a wintertime maximum, coinciding with the season of highest SWWA rainfall. The anomalies in SST can appear as early as the summertime months, however, which may have important implications for predictability of SWWA rainfall extremes.

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Agus Santoso
,
Matthew H. England
,
Jules B. Kajtar
, and
Wenju Cai

Abstract

Understanding variability of the Indonesian Throughflow (ITF) and its links to El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Indian Ocean dipole (IOD), and how they are represented across climate models constitutes an important step toward improved future climate projections. These issues are examined using 20 models from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) and the SODA-2.2.4 ocean reanalysis. It is found that the CMIP5 models overall simulate aspects of ITF variability, such as spectral and vertical structure, that are consistent with the reanalysis, although intermodel differences are substantial. The ITF variability is shown to exhibit two dominant principal vertical structures: a surface-intensified transport anomaly (ITFM1) and an anomalous transport characterized by opposing flows in the surface and subsurface (ITFM2). In the CMIP5 models and reanalysis, ITFM2 is linked to both ENSO and the IOD via anomalous Indo-Pacific Walker circulation. The driver of ITFM1 however differs between the reanalysis and the CMIP5 models. In the reanalysis ITFM1 is a delayed response to ENSO, whereas in the CMIP5 models it is linked to the IOD associated with the overly strong IOD amplitude bias. Further, the CMIP5 ITF variability tends to be weaker than in the reanalysis, due to a tendency for the CMIP5 models to simulate a delayed IOD in response to ENSO. The importance in considering the vertical structure of ITF variability in understanding ENSO and IOD impact is further underscored by the close link between greenhouse-forced changes in ENSO variability and projected changes in subsurface ITF variability.

Open access
Bryam Orihuela-Pinto
,
Agus Santoso
,
Matthew H. England
, and
Andréa S. Taschetto

Abstract

Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) collapses have punctuated Earth’s climate in the past, and future projections suggest a weakening and potential collapse in response to global warming and high-latitude ocean freshening. Among its most important teleconnections, the AMOC has been shown to influence El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), although there is no clear consensus on the tendency of this influence or the mechanisms at play. In this study, we investigate the effect of an AMOC collapse on ENSO by adding freshwater in the North Atlantic in a global climate model. The tropical Pacific mean-state changes caused by the AMOC collapse are found to alter the governing ENSO feedbacks, damping the growth rate of ENSO. As a result, ENSO variability is found to decrease by ∼30% due to weaker air–sea coupling associated with a cooler tropical Pacific and an intensified Walker circulation. The decreased ENSO variability manifests in ∼95% less frequent extreme El Niño events and a shift toward more prevalent central Pacific El Niño than eastern Pacific El Niño events, marked by a reduced ENSO nonlinearity and asymmetry. These results provide mechanistic insights into the possible behavior of past and future ENSO in a scenario of a much weakened or collapsed AMOC.

Significance Statement

The Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) has collapsed in the past and a future collapse due to greenhouse warming is a plausible scenario. An AMOC shutdown would have major ramifications for global climate, with extensive impacts on climate phenomena such as El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which is the strongest source of year-to-year climate variability on the planet. Using numerical simulations, we show that an AMOC shutdown leads to weaker ENSO variability, manifesting in 95% reduction in extreme El Niño events, and a shift of the ENSO pattern toward the central Pacific. This study sheds light on the mechanisms behind these changes, with implications for interpreting past and future ENSO variability.

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