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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

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

Abstract

Previous studies have shown that the Indo-Pacific atmospheric response to ENSO comprises two dominant modes of variability: a meridionally quasi-symmetric response (independent of the annual cycle) and an antisymmetric response (arising from the nonlinear atmospheric interaction between ENSO variability and the annual cycle), referred to as the combination mode (C-mode). This study demonstrates that the direct El Niño signal over the tropics is confined to the equatorial region and has no significant impact on the atmospheric response over East Asia. The El Niño–associated equatorial anomalies can be expanded toward off-equatorial regions by the C-mode through ENSO’s interaction with the annual cycle. The C-mode is the prime driver for the development of an anomalous low-level anticyclone over the western North Pacific (WNP) during the El Niño decay phase, which usually transports more moisture to East Asia and thereby causes more precipitation over southern China. An atmospheric general circulation model is used that reproduces well the WNP anticyclonic anomalies when both El Niño sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies as well as the SST annual cycle are prescribed as boundary conditions. However, no significant WNP anticyclonic circulation anomaly appears during the El Niño decay phase when excluding the SST annual cycle. The analyses herein of observational data and model experiments suggest that the annual cycle plays a key role in the East Asian climate anomalies associated with El Niño through their nonlinear atmospheric interaction. Hence, a realistic simulation of the annual cycle is crucial in order to correctly capture the ENSO-associated climate anomalies over East Asia.

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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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Feng Jiang, Wenjun Zhang, Xin Geng, Malte F. Stuecker, and Chao Liu

ABSTRACT

Here we investigate the response of boreal spring precipitation over southern China (SPSC) to central Pacific (CP) El Niño based on observational datasets. While there is enhanced precipitation over southern China during the decaying boreal spring of eastern Pacific (EP) El Niño events, so far no clear precipitation response has been detected during the same decaying stage for CP El Niño composites. Here we show that around half of the CP El Niño events coincide with enhanced SPSC (wet CP El Niño), while the other half are accompanied by reduced SPSC (dry CP El Niño). These two types of CP El Niño events bear dramatically different evolution features in their respective tropical sea surface temperature anomaly (SSTA) patterns. Wet CP El Niño events are characterized by an SSTA longitudinal position confined to the tropical central-eastern Pacific. In contrast, dry CP El Niño events exhibit a clear westward propagation of SSTAs during their evolution, with maximum SSTAs located to the west of the date line after their mature phase. These different longitudinal positions of positive SSTAs during their decaying phase result in distinct meridional structures of the tropical Pacific convection anomalies as well as the ENSO combination mode (C-mode) response. An anomalous low-level anticyclone is evident over the western North Pacific during wet CP El Niño events during their decaying phase, while an anomalous cyclonic circulation is found for dry CP El Niño events. We emphasize that the impacts of CP El Niño on the SPSC depend crucially on the simultaneous zonal location of warm SSTAs in the tropical Pacific.

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Malte F. Stuecker, Christina Karamperidou, Alison D. Nugent, Giuseppe Torri, Sloan Coats, and Steven Businger

The recently published article entitled “The financial dilemma of students pursuing an atmospheric science graduate degree in the United States” by Card et al. (2020) contained a fundamental mistake in their methodology of calculating “effective income” that could have had far-reaching negative impacts on some programs and schools when it was first published. After pointing out to the authors that it is incorrect to use meals and incidental expense (M&IE) rates to estimate cost of living outside of the continental United States, the original article was retracted and subsequently revised by Card et al. (2020) to

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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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Yechul Shin, Sarah M. Kang, Ken Takahashi, Malte F. Stuecker, Yen-Ting Hwang, and Doyeon Kim

Abstract

This study examines the temporal evolution of the extratropically forced tropical response in an idealized aquaplanet model under equinox condition. We apply a surface thermal forcing in the northern extratropics that oscillates periodically in time. It is shown that tropical precipitation is unaltered by sufficiently high-frequency extratropical forcing. This sensitivity to the extratropical forcing periodicity arises from the critical time required for sea surface temperature (SST) adjustment. Low-frequency extratropical forcing grants sufficient time for atmospheric transient eddies to diffuse moist static energy to perturb the midlatitude SSTs outside the forcing region, as demonstrated by a one-dimensional energy balance model with a fixed diffusivity. As the transient eddies weaken in the subtropics, a further equatorward advection is accomplished by the Hadley circulation. The essential role of Hadley cell advection in connecting the subtropical signal to the equatorial region is supported by an idealized thermodynamical-advective model. Associated with the SST changes in the tropics is a meridional shift of the intertropical convergence zone. Since the time needed for SST adjustment increases with increasing mixed layer depth, the critical forcing period at which the extratropical forcing can affect the tropics scales linearly with the mixed layer depth. Our results highlight the important role of decadal-and-longer extratropical climate variability in shaping the tropical climate system. We also raise the possibility that the transient behavior of a tropical response forced by extratropical variability may be strongly dependent on cloud radiative effects.

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