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Lei Zhang and Kristopher B. Karnauskas

Abstract

The effects of externally forced tropical sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies on long-term Walker circulation changes are investigated through numerical atmospheric general circulation model (AGCM) experiments. In response to the observed tropics-wide SST trend, which exhibits a prominent interbasin warming contrast (IBWC) with smaller warming in the Pacific than the Indian and Atlantic Oceans that includes a weak La Niña–like pattern in the equatorial Pacific, pronounced low-level easterly anomalies emerge over the equatorial Pacific. Through sensitivity experiments, the intensification of the Pacific trade winds (PTWs) is attributable to the IBWC, whereas the slightly enhanced zonal SST gradient within the equatorial Pacific plays a small role relative to the observed IBWC. It is further demonstrated that the greater Indian Ocean warming forces low-level easterly anomalies over the entire equatorial Pacific, while the greater tropical Atlantic warming-driven enhancement of PTWs is located over the central equatorial Pacific. In contrast to observations, a negligible IBWC emerges in the tropical SST trends of CMIP5 historical simulations due to a strong El Niño–like warming in the tropical Pacific. Lacking the observed IBWC (and the observed enhancement of the zonal SST gradient within the equatorial Pacific), the PTWs in the CMIP5 ensemble can only weaken.

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William R. Leslie and Kristopher B. Karnauskas

Abstract

The NOAA Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) moored array has, for three decades, been a valuable resource for monitoring and forecasting El Niño–Southern Oscillation and understanding physical oceanographic as well as coupled processes in the tropical Pacific influencing global climate. Acoustic Doppler current profiler (ADCP) measurements by TAO moorings provide benchmarks for evaluating numerical simulations of subsurface circulation including the Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC). Meanwhile, the Sea Education Association (SEA) has been collecting data during repeat cruises to the central equatorial Pacific Ocean (160°–126°W) throughout the past decade that provide useful cross validation and quantitative insight into the potential for stationary observing platforms such as TAO to incur sampling biases related to the strength of the EUC. This paper describes some essential sampling characteristics of the SEA dataset, compares SEA and TAO velocity measurements in the vicinity of the EUC, shares new insight into EUC characteristics and behavior only observable in repeat cross-equatorial sections, and estimates the sampling bias incurred by equatorial TAO moorings in their estimates of the velocity and transport of the EUC. The SEA high-resolution ADCP dataset compares well with concurrent TAO measurements (RMSE = 0.05 m s−1; R 2 = 0.98), suggests that the EUC core meanders sinusoidally about the equator between ±0.4° latitude, and reveals a mean sampling bias of equatorial measurements (e.g., TAO) of the EUC’s zonal velocity of −0.14 ± 0.03 m s−1 as well as a ~10% underestimation of EUC volume transport. A bias-corrected monthly record and climatology of EUC strength at 140°W for 1990–2010 is presented.

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Elizabeth J. Drenkard and Kristopher B. Karnauskas

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Several recent studies utilizing global climate models predict that the Pacific Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC) will strengthen over the twenty-first century. Here, historical changes in the tropical Pacific are investigated using the Simple Ocean Data Assimilation (SODA) reanalysis toward understanding the dynamics and mechanisms that may dictate such a change. Although SODA does not assimilate velocity observations, the seasonal-to-interannual variability of the EUC estimated by SODA corresponds well with moored observations over a ~20-yr common period. Long-term trends in SODA indicate that the EUC core velocity has increased by 16% century−1 and as much as 47% century−1 at fixed locations since the mid-1800s. Diagnosis of the zonal momentum budget in the equatorial Pacific reveals two distinct seasonal mechanisms that explain the EUC strengthening. The first is characterized by strengthening of the western Pacific trade winds and hence oceanic zonal pressure gradient during boreal spring. The second entails weakening of eastern Pacific trade winds during boreal summer, which weakens the surface current and reduces EUC deceleration through vertical friction. EUC strengthening has important ecological implications as upwelling affects the thermal and biogeochemical environment. Furthermore, given the potential large-scale influence of EUC strength and depth on the heat budget in the eastern Pacific, the seasonal strengthening of the EUC may help reconcile paradoxical observations of Walker circulation slowdown and zonal SST gradient strengthening. Such a process would represent a new dynamical “thermostat” on CO2-forced warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean, emphasizing the importance of ocean dynamics and seasonality in understanding climate change projections.

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Kristopher B. Karnauskas and Antonio J. Busalacchi

Abstract

Satellite- and gauge-based precipitation and sea surface temperature (SST) are analyzed to understand the role of SST in the east Pacific warm pool (EPWP) in the interannual variability of Central American rainfall. It is shown that, during the rainy season following the mature phase of an El Niño event, an anomalously warm EPWP can cause a rapid enhancement of the eastern Pacific intertropical convergence zone (EP ITCZ), which directly leads to a positive rainfall anomaly over Central America. Moreover, the timing and amplitude of the SST-enhanced EP ITCZ depends on the persistence of the El Niño event. The longer the equatorial SST anomaly persists, the longer the EPWP is subject to anomalous shortwave heating, and thus the stronger (and later) the subsequent SST enhancement of the EP ITCZ. The implications for regional climate monitoring and predictability are explored; potential predictability of seasonal rainfall is demonstrated 4 months in advance using an SST-based index designed to capture the essence of the above-mentioned mechanism.

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Kristopher B. Karnauskas and Antonio J. Busalacchi

Abstract

In comparison with the western and equatorial Pacific Ocean, relatively little is known about the east Pacific warm pool (EPWP). Observations indicate that the interannual variability of sea surface temperature (SST) in the EPWP is highly correlated (0.95) with the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). In this paper, an ocean general circulation model (OGCM) of the tropical Pacific Ocean and various atmospheric and oceanic observations are used to diagnose the physical processes governing the interannual variability of SST in the EPWP. Atmospheric forcings for the OGCM are derived purely from satellite observations between 1988 and 2004.

Shortwave heating is identified as playing a dominant role in the interannual SST tendency of the EPWP. The high correlation between SST in the EPWP and eastern equatorial Pacific is therefore explained not by ocean processes, but by an atmospheric link. ENSO-driven equatorial SST anomalies modify the distribution of the overlying atmospheric vertical motions and therefore cloud cover and ultimately shortwave heating. During an El Niño event, for example, the ITCZ is equatorward displaced from its normal position over the EPWP, resulting in anomalously large shortwave heating over the EPWP. Analysis of poleward ocean heat transport and coastal Kelvin waves confirms that oceanic processes are not sufficient to explain the interannual variability of the EPWP.

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William R. Leslie, Kristopher B. Karnauskas, and Jan H. Witting
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Lei Zhang, Kristopher B. Karnauskas, Jeffrey P. Donnelly, and Kerry Emanuel

Abstract

A downscaling approach is applied to future projection simulations from four CMIP5 global climate models to investigate the response of the tropical cyclone (TC) climatology over the North Pacific basin to global warming. Under the influence of the anthropogenic rise in greenhouse gases, TC-track density, power dissipation, and TC genesis exhibit robust increasing trends over the North Pacific, especially over the central subtropical Pacific region. The increase in North Pacific TCs is primarily manifested as increases in the intense and relatively weak TCs. Examination of storm duration also reveals that TCs over the North Pacific have longer lifetimes under global warming.

Through a genesis potential index, the mechanistic contributions of various physical climate factors to the simulated change in TC genesis are explored. More frequent TC genesis under global warming is mostly attributable to the smaller vertical wind shear and greater potential intensity (primarily due to higher sea surface temperature). In contrast, the effect of the saturation deficit of the free troposphere tends to suppress TC genesis, and the change in large-scale vorticity plays a negligible role.

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Kristopher B. Karnauskas, Raghu Murtugudde, and Antonio J. Busalacchi

Abstract

Although sustained observations yield a description of the mean equatorial current system from the western Pacific to the eastern terminus of the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) array, a comprehensive observational dataset suitable for describing the structure and pathways of the Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC) east of 95°W does not exist and therefore climate models are unconstrained in a region that plays a critical role in ocean–atmosphere coupling. Furthermore, ocean models suggest that the interaction between the EUC and the Galápagos Islands (∼92°W) has a striking effect on the basic state and coupled variability of the tropical Pacific. To this end, the authors interpret historical measurements beginning with those made in conjunction with the discovery of the Pacific EUC in the 1950s, analyze velocity measurements from an equatorial TAO mooring at 85°W, and analyze a new dataset from archived shipboard ADCP measurements. Together, the observations yield a possible composite description of the EUC structure and pathways in the eastern equatorial Pacific that may be useful for model validation and guiding future observation.

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Kristopher B. Karnauskas, Raghu Murtugudde, and Antonio J. Busalacchi

Abstract

An ocean general circulation model (OGCM) of the tropical Pacific Ocean is used to examine the effects of the Galápagos Islands on the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). First, a series of experiments is conducted using the OGCM in a forced context, whereby an idealized El Niño event may be examined in cases with and without the Galápagos Islands. In this setup, the sensitivity of the sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly response to the presence of the Galápagos Islands is examined. Second, with the OGCM coupled to the atmosphere via zonal wind stress, experiments are conducted with and without the Galápagos Islands to determine how the Galápagos Islands influence the time scale of ENSO.

In the forced setup, the Galápagos Islands lead to a damped SST anomaly given an identical zonal wind stress perturbation. Mixed layer heat budget calculations implicate the entrainment mixing term, which confirms that the difference is due to the Galápagos Islands changing the background mean state, that is, the equatorial thermocline as diagnosed in a previous paper. In the hybrid coupled experiments, there is a clear shift in the power spectrum of SST anomalies in the eastern equatorial Pacific. Specifically, the Galápagos Islands lead to a shift in the ENSO time scale from a biennial to a quasi-quadrennial period. Mechanisms for the shift in ENSO time scale due to the Galápagos Islands are discussed in the context of well-known paradigms for the oscillatory nature of ENSO.

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Kristopher B. Karnauskas, Raghu Murtugudde, and Antonio J. Busalacchi

Abstract

A reduced-gravity ocean general circulation model of the tropical Pacific Ocean is used to determine potential improvements to the simulated equatorial Pacific cold tongue region through choices in horizontal resolution and coastline geometry—in particular, for the Galápagos Islands. Four simulations are performed, with identical climatological forcing. Results are compared between model grids with and without the Galápagos Islands, with coarse and fine resolutions. It is found that properly including the Galápagos Islands results in the obstruction of the Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC), which leads to improvements in the simulated spatial structure of the cold tongue, including a basinwide warming of up to 2°C in the east-central Pacific. The obstruction of the EUC is directly related to the improvements east of the Galápagos Islands, and for the basinwide reduction of the tropical cold bias through an equatorial dynamical adjustment. The pattern of SST warming resulting from the inclusion of the Galápagos Islands is similar to that of the known cold biases in ocean models and the current National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Forecast System. It is thought that such an improvement would have a considerable impact on the ability of coupled ocean–atmosphere and ocean–ecosystem models to produce realistic clouds, precipitation, surface ocean bioproductivity, and carbon cycling in the tropical Pacific Ocean.

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