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Malte F. Stuecker, Fei-Fei Jin, Axel Timmermann, and Shayne McGregor

Abstract

In this reply, the authors clarify the points made in the original paper in 2015 and show that issues raised in the comment by Li et al. are unsubstantiated. The main conclusions can be summarized as follows: 1) The time evolution of the anomalous low-level northwest Pacific anticyclone (NWP-AC) is largely caused by combination mode (C-mode) dynamics. 2) The theoretical C-mode index accurately captures the rapid development of the anomalous NWP-AC. 3) Thermodynamic air–sea coupling does not play a major role for the rapid phase transition of the NWP-AC and the meridionally antisymmetric atmospheric circulation response during the peak phase of El Niño events in boreal winter.

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Feng Jiang, Wenjun Zhang, Malte F. Stuecker, and Fei-Fei Jin

Abstract

Previous studies have shown that nonlinear atmospheric interactions between ENSO and the warm pool annual cycle generates a combination mode (C-mode), which is responsible for the termination of strong El Niño events and the development of the anomalous anticyclone over the western North Pacific (WNP). However, the C-mode has experienced a remarkable decadal change in its characteristics around the early 2000s. The C-mode in both pre- and post-2000 exhibits its characteristic anomalous atmospheric circulation meridional asymmetry but with somewhat different spatial structures and time scales. During 1979–99, the C-mode pattern featured prominent westerly surface wind anomalies in the southeastern tropical Pacific and anticyclonic anomalies over the WNP. In contrast, the C-mode-associated westerly anomalies were shifted farther westward to the central Pacific and the WNP anticyclone was farther westward extended and weaker after 2000. These different C-mode patterns were accompanied by distinct climate impacts over the Indo-Pacific region. The decadal differences of the C-mode are tightly connected with the ENSO regime shift around 2000; that is, the occurrence of central Pacific (CP) El Niño events with quasi-biennial and decadal periodicities increased while the occurrence of eastern Pacific (EP) El Niño events with quasi-quadrennial periodicity decreased. The associated near-annual combination tone periodicities of the C-mode also changed in accordance with these changes in the dominant ENSO frequency between the two time periods. Numerical model experiments further confirm the impacts of the ENSO regime shift on the C-mode characteristics. These results have important implications for understanding the C-mode dynamics and improving predictions of its climate impacts.

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Malte F. Stuecker, Fei-Fei Jin, Axel Timmermann, and Shayne McGregor

Abstract

Nonlinear interactions between ENSO and the western Pacific warm pool annual cycle generate an atmospheric combination mode (C-mode) of wind variability. The authors demonstrate that C-mode dynamics are responsible for the development of an anomalous low-level northwest Pacific anticyclone (NWP-AC) during El Niño events. The NWP-AC is embedded in a large-scale meridionally antisymmetric Indo-Pacific atmospheric circulation response and has been shown to exhibit large impacts on precipitation in Asia. In contrast to previous studies, the authors find the role of air–sea coupling in the Indian Ocean and northwestern Pacific only of secondary importance for the NWP-AC genesis. Moreover, the NWP-AC is clearly marked in the frequency domain with near-annual combination tones, which have been overlooked in previous Indo-Pacific climate studies. Furthermore, the authors hypothesize a positive feedback loop involving the anomalous low-level NWP-AC through El Niño and C-mode interactions: the development of the NWP-AC as a result of the C-mode acts to rapidly terminate El Niño events. The subsequent phase shift from retreating El Niño conditions toward a developing La Niña phase terminates the low-level cyclonic circulation response in the central Pacific and thus indirectly enhances the NWP-AC and allows it to persist until boreal summer. Anomalous local circulation features in the Indo-Pacific (e.g., the NWP-AC) can be considered a superposition of the quasi-symmetric linear ENSO response and the meridionally antisymmetric annual cycle modulated ENSO response (C-mode). The authors emphasize that it is not adequate to assess ENSO impacts by considering only interannual time scales. C-mode dynamics are an essential (extended) part of ENSO and result in a wide range of deterministic high-frequency variability.

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Xin Geng, Wenjun Zhang, Fei-Fei Jin, Malte F. Stuecker, and Aaron F. Z. Levine

Abstract

Recent studies demonstrated the existence of a conspicuous atmospheric combination mode (C-mode) originating from nonlinear interactions between El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Pacific warm pool annual cycle (AC). Here we find that the C-mode exhibits prominent decadal amplitude variations during the ENSO decaying boreal spring season. It is revealed that the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation (AMO) can largely explain this waxing and waning in amplitude. A robust positive correlation between ENSO and the C-mode is detected during a negative AMO phase but not during a positive phase. Similar results can also be found in the relationship of ENSO with 1) the western North Pacific (WNP) anticyclone and 2) spring precipitation over southern China, both of which are closely associated with the C-mode. We suggest that ENSO property changes due to an AMO modulation play a crucial role in determining these decadal shifts. During a positive AMO phase, ENSO events are distinctly weaker than those in an AMO negative phase. In addition, El Niño events concurrent with a positive AMO phase tend to exhibit a westward-shifted sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly pattern. These SST characteristics during the positive AMO phase are both not conducive to the development of the meridionally asymmetric C-mode atmospheric circulation pattern and thus reduce the ENSO/C-mode correlation on decadal time scales. These observations can be realistically reproduced by a coupled general circulation model (CGCM) experiment in which North Atlantic SSTs are nudged to reproduce a 50-yr sinusoidally varying AMO evolution. Our conclusion carries important implications for understanding seasonally modulated ENSO dynamics and multiscale climate impacts over East Asia.

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Karl Stein, Axel Timmermann, Niklas Schneider, Fei-Fei Jin, and Malte F. Stuecker

Abstract

One of the key characteristics of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is its synchronization to the annual cycle, which manifests in the tendency of ENSO events to peak during boreal winter. Current theory offers two possible mechanisms to account the for ENSO synchronization: frequency locking of ENSO to periodic forcing by the annual cycle, or the effect of the seasonally varying background state of the equatorial Pacific on ENSO’s coupled stability. Using a parametric recharge oscillator (PRO) model of ENSO, the authors test which of these scenarios provides a better explanation of the observed ENSO synchronization.

Analytical solutions of the PRO model show that the annual modulation of the growth rate parameter results directly in ENSO’s seasonal variance, amplitude modulation, and 2:1 phase synchronization to the annual cycle. The solutions are shown to be applicable to the long-term behavior of the damped model excited by stochastic noise, which produces synchronization characteristics that agree with the observations and can account for the variety of ENSO synchronization behavior in state-of-the-art coupled general circulation models. The model also predicts spectral peaks at “combination tones” between ENSO and the annual cycle that exist in the observations and many coupled models. In contrast, the nonlinear frequency entrainment scenario predicts the existence of a spectral peak at the biennial frequency corresponding to the observed 2:1 phase synchronization. Such a peak does not exist in the observed ENSO spectrum. Hence, it can be concluded that the seasonal modulation of the coupled stability is responsible for the synchronization of ENSO events to the annual cycle.

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Shayne McGregor, Axel Timmermann, Niklas Schneider, Malte F. Stuecker, and Matthew H. England

Abstract

During large El Niño events the westerly wind response to the eastern equatorial Pacific sea surface temperature anomalies (SSTAs) shifts southward during boreal winter and early spring, reaching latitudes of 5°–7°S. The resulting meridional asymmetry, along with a related seasonal weakening of wind anomalies on the equator are key elements in the termination of strong El Niño events. Using an intermediate complexity atmosphere model it is demonstrated that these features result from a weakening of the climatological wind speeds south of the equator toward the end of the calendar year. The reduced climatological wind speeds, which are associated with the seasonal intensification of the South Pacific convergence zone (SPCZ), lead to anomalous boundary layer Ekman pumping and a reduced surface momentum damping of the combined boundary layer/lower-troposphere surface wind response to El Niño. This allows the associated zonal wind anomalies to shift south of the equator. Furthermore, using a linear shallow-water ocean model it is demonstrated that this southward wind shift plays a prominent role in changing zonal mean equatorial heat content and is solely responsible for establishing the meridional asymmetry of thermocline depth in the turnaround (recharge/discharge) phase of ENSO. This result calls into question the sole role of oceanic Rossby waves in the phase synchronized termination of El Niño events and suggests that the development of a realistic climatological SPCZ in December–February/March–May (DJF/MAM) is one of the key factors in the seasonal termination of strong El Niño events.

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Kiwoong Park, Sarah M. Kang, Doyeon Kim, Malte F. Stuecker, and Fei-Fei Jin

Abstract

The polar region has been one of the fastest warming places on Earth in response to greenhouse gas (GHG) forcing. Two distinct processes contribute to the observed warming signal: (i) local warming in direct response to the GHG forcing and (ii) the effect of enhanced poleward heat transport from low latitudes. A series of aquaplanet experiments, which excludes the surface albedo feedback, is conducted to quantify the relative contributions of these two physical processes to the polar warming magnitude and degree of amplification relative to the global mean. The globe is divided into zonal bands with equal area in eight experiments. For each of these, an external heating is prescribed beneath the slab ocean layer in the respective forcing bands. The summation of the individual temperature responses to each local heating in these experiments is very similar to the response to a globally uniform heating. This allows the authors to decompose the polar warming and amplification signal into the effects of local and remote heating. Local polar heating that induces surface-trapped warming due to the large tropospheric static stability in this region accounts for about half of the polar surface warming. Cloud radiative effects act to enhance this local contribution. In contrast, remote nonpolar heating induces a robust polar warming pattern that features a midtropospheric peak, regardless of the meridional location of the forcing. Among all remote forcing experiments, the deep tropical forcing case contributes most to the polar-amplified surface warming pattern relative to the global mean, while the high-latitude forcing cases contribute most to enhancing the polar surface warming magnitude.

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Zhiyu Li, Wenjun Zhang, Malte F. Stuecker, Haiming Xu, Fei-Fei Jin, and Chao Liu

Abstract

The present work investigates different responses of Arctic surface air temperature (SAT) to two ENSO types based on reanalysis datasets and model experiments. We find that eastern Pacific (EP) ENSO events are accompanied by statistically significant SAT responses over the Barents–Kara Seas in February, while central Pacific (CP) events coincide with statistically significant SAT responses over northeastern Canada and Greenland. These impacts are largely of opposite sign for ENSO warm and cold phases. During EP El Niño in February, the enhanced tropospheric polar vortex over Eurasia and associated local low-level northeasterly anomalies over the Barents–Kara Seas lead to anomalously cold SAT in this region. Simultaneously, the enhanced tropospheric polar vortex leads to enhanced sinking air motion and consequently reduced cloud cover. This in turn reduces downward infrared radiation (IR), which further reduces SAT in the Barents–Kara Seas region. Such a robust response cannot be detected during other winter months for EP ENSO events. During CP El Niño, the February SATs over northeastern Canada and Greenland are anomalously warm and coincide with a weakened tropospheric polar vortex and related local low-level southwesterly anomalies originating from the Atlantic Ocean. The anomalous warmth can be enhanced by the local positive feedback. Similar SAT signals as in February during CP ENSO events can also be seen in January, but they are less statistically robust. We demonstrate that these contrasting Arctic February SAT responses are consistent with responses to the two ENSO types with a series of atmospheric general circulation model experiments. These results have implications for the seasonal predictability of regional Arctic SAT anomalies.

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Matthew J. Widlansky, Axel Timmermann, Shayne McGregor, Malte F. Stuecker, and Wenju Cai

Abstract

During strong El Niño events, sea level drops around some tropical western Pacific islands by up to 20–30 cm. Such events (referred to as taimasa in Samoa) expose shallow reefs, thereby causing severe damage to associated coral ecosystems and contributing to the formation of microatolls. During the termination of strong El Niño events, a southward movement of weak trade winds and the development of an anomalous anticyclone in the Philippine Sea are shown to force an interhemispheric sea level seesaw in the tropical Pacific that enhances and prolongs extreme low sea levels in the southwestern Pacific. Spectral features, in addition to wind-forced linear shallow water ocean model experiments, identify a nonlinear interaction between El Niño and the annual cycle as the main cause of these sea level anomalies.

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Wenjun Zhang, Haiyan Li, Fei-Fei Jin, Malte F. Stuecker, Andrew G. Turner, and Nicholas P. Klingaman

Abstract

Previous studies documented that a distinct southward shift of central Pacific low-level wind anomalies occurring during the ENSO decaying phase is caused by an interaction between the western Pacific annual cycle and El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) variability. The present study finds that the meridional movement of the central Pacific wind anomalies appears only during traditional eastern Pacific El Niño (EP El Niño) events rather than in central Pacific El Niño (CP El Niño) events in which sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies are confined to the central Pacific. The zonal structure of ENSO-related SST anomalies therefore has an important effect on meridional asymmetry in the associated atmospheric response and its modulation by the annual cycle. In contrast to EP El Niño events, the SST anomalies of CP El Niño events extend farther west toward the warm pool region with its climatological warm SSTs. In the warm pool region, relatively small SST anomalies are thus able to excite convection anomalies on both sides of the equator, even with a meridionally asymmetric SST background state. Therefore, almost meridionally symmetric precipitation and wind anomalies are observed over the central Pacific during the decaying phase of CP El Niño events. The SST anomaly pattern of La Niña events is similar to CP El Niño events with a reversed sign. Accordingly, no distinct southward displacement of the atmospheric response occurs over the central Pacific during the La Niña decaying phase. These results have important implications for ENSO climate impacts over East Asia, since the anomalous low-level anticyclone over the western North Pacific is an integral part of the annual cycle–modulated ENSO response.

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