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Ruihuang Xie and Fei-Fei Jin

Abstract

Modern instrumental records reveal that El Niño events differ in their spatial patterns and temporal evolutions. Attempts have been made to categorize them roughly into two main types: eastern Pacific (EP; or cold tongue) and central Pacific (CP; or warm pool) El Niño events. In this study, a modified version of the Zebiak–Cane (MZC) coupled model is used to examine the dynamics of these two types of El Niño events. Linear eigenanalysis of the model is conducted to show that there are two leading El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) modes with their SST patterns resembling those of two types of El Niño. Thus, they are referred to as the EP and CP ENSO modes. These two modes are sensitive to changes in the mean states. The heat budget analyses demonstrate that the EP (CP) mode is dominated by thermocline (zonal advective) feedback. Therefore, the weak (strong) mean wind stress and deep (shallow) mean thermocline prefer the EP (CP) ENSO mode because of the relative dominance of thermocline (zonal advective) feedback under such a mean state. Consistent with the linear stability analysis, the occurrence ratio of CP/EP El Niño events in the nonlinear simulations generally increases toward the regime where the linear CP ENSO mode has relatively higher growth rate. These analyses suggest that the coexistence of two leading ENSO modes is responsible for two types of El Niño simulated in the MZC model. This model result may provide a plausible scenario for the observed ENSO diversity.

Open access
Ruihuang Xie, Mu Mu, and Xianghui Fang

Abstract

Observed outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) data indicate that convection is nonlinearly sensitive to sea surface temperature anomalies (SSTA) for background SSTs in the 25.25°–30.25°C high-impact range. In this study, we use that observed convection sensitivity to derive a proxy of the convective responses to SSTA only [referred to as fluctuations of the accumulated convection strength (FACT)]. FACT reproduces the pattern of the observed convection response to ENSO in the central and eastern Pacific, but underestimates the amplitude due to the exclusion of the effect of ENSO-induced atmospheric convergence anomalies on convection. We thus use FACT to define new indices (InFACT) of ENSO diversity that explicitly account for the nonlinear convection–SST sensitivity. The amplitude of InFACT allows us to easily classify El Niño events into weak, moderate, and strong types that markedly differ in terms of SSTA spatial patterns and their convective responses. La Niña events classified by InFACT display much less pattern diversity, and mostly differ through their amplitudes. Finally, our study supports some previous studies that the nonlinear SST–convection relation plays a strong role for the development of extreme El Niño events with the presence of high-impact SSTs and large convection anomalies in the equatorial eastern Pacific.

Open access