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Shayne McGregor
and
Axel Timmermann

Abstract

This study examines the response of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) to massive volcanic eruptions in a suite of coupled general circulation model (CGCM) simulations utilizing the Community Climate System Model, version 3 (CCSM3). The authors find that the radiative forcing due to volcanic aerosols injected into the stratosphere induces a model climatic response that projects onto the ENSO mode and initially creates a La Niña event that peaks around the time the volcanic forcing peaks. The curl of the wind stress changes accompanying this volcanically forced equatorial region cooling acts to recharge the equatorial region heat. For weaker volcanic eruptions, this recharging results in an El Niño event about two seasons after the peak of the volcanic forcing. The results of the CCSM3 volcanic forcing experiments lead the authors to propose that the initial tropical Pacific Ocean response to volcanic forcing is determined by four different mechanisms—one process is the dynamical thermostat mechanism (the mean upwelling of anomalous temperature) and the other processes are related to the zonal equatorial gradients of the mean cloud albedo, Newtonian cooling, and mixed layer depth. The zonal gradient in CCSM3 set by both mixed layer depth and Newtonian cooling terms oppose the zonal sea surface temperature anomaly (SSTA) gradient produced by the dynamical thermostat and initially dominate the mixed layer zonal equatorial heat budget response. Applying this knowledge to a simple volcanically forced mixed layer equation using observed estimates of the spatially varying variables, the authors again find that the mixed layer depth and Newtonian cooling terms oppose and dominate the zonal SSTA gradient produced by the dynamical thermostat. This implies that the observed initial response to volcanic forcing should be La Niña–like not El Niño, as suggested by paleoclimate records.

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Shayne McGregor
,
Dietmar Dommenget
, and
Sonja Neske

Abstract

This study utilizes observations and a series of idealized experiments to explore whether eastern Pacific (EP)- and central Pacific (CP)-type El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events produce surface wind stress responses with distinct spatial structures. We find that the meridionally broader sea surface temperatures (SSTs) during CP events lead to zonal wind stresses that are also meridionally broader than those found during EP-type events, leading to differences in the near-equatorial wind stress curl. These wind spatial structure differences create differences in the associated pre- and post-ENSO event WWV response. For instance, the meridionally narrow winds found during EP events have (i) weaker wind stresses along 5°N and 5°S, leading to weaker Ekman-induced pre-event WWV changes; and (ii) stronger near-equatorial wind stress curls that lead to a much larger post-ENSO event WWV changes than during CP events. The latter suggests that, in the framework of the recharge oscillator model, the EP events have stronger coupling between sea surface temperatures (SST) and thermocline (WWV), supporting more clearly the phase transition of ENSO events, and therefore, the oscillating nature of ENSO than CP events. The results suggest that the spatial structure of the SST pattern and the related differences in the wind stress curl, are required along with equatorial wind stress to accurately model the WWV changes during EP- and CP-type ENSO events.

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Rajashree Naha
,
Shayne McGregor
, and
Martin Singh

Abstract

Recent analysis of pantropical interactions suggests that after 1980 the tropical Atlantic Ocean’s (TAO) influence on the tropical Pacific Ocean (TPO) appears to have become much more pronounced while the tropical Indian Ocean’s (TIO) influence appears to have weakened. This study explores whether and how decadal changes in TAO and TPO SSTs modulate these pantropical connections in an attempt to explain the recent dominance of the TAO. To this end, we carry out a series of idealized atmosphere-only experiments using the ACCESS atmospheric general circulation model where the magnitude and sign of the decadal TAO SST signal are varied, presenting various warm and cool Atlantic scenarios. To understand further if these pantropical connections are influenced by changes in TPO SST, we carry out the above TAO experiments with both warm and cool phases of Pacific decadal variability (PDV). We find that an imposed TAO warming leads to increases in TPO atmospheric temperature and stability, which lead to a decrease in average TPO precipitation, with the most prominent changes occurring in June–August. These changes in TPO precipitation induced by TAO warming are largely mirrored when TAO cooling is added, whereas the TPO rainfall response to TAO anomalies remains relatively unchanged for the different phases of PDV. In contrast to the precipitation response, the wind response did display some asymmetries between different phases of TAO SST variability. Specifically, surface winds in the western half of the Niño-4 region exhibited a significantly different response to positive versus negative Atlantic multidecadal variability (AMV), whereas the surface winds in the western equatorial Pacific were significantly stronger (roughly 40% larger) in the positive phase of PDV than in the negative phase. These results suggest that the phases of PDV and AMV may modulate pantropical interactions through their effect on zonal wind stress.

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Rajashree Naha
,
Shayne McGregor
, and
Martin Singh

Abstract

Recent analysis of pan-tropical interactions suggests that post-1980 the tropical Indian Ocean’s (TIO) influence on the tropical Pacific Ocean (TPO) appears to have subdued, while the tropical Atlantic Ocean’s (TAO) influence has become more pronounced. The present study explores whether we can identify and dynamically explain any asymmetries in the pan-tropical connection between the TIO and TPO SSTs in an attempt to explain the recently reported weakening of the TIO influence. To this end, we carry out two idealized atmosphere-only experiments using the ACCESS atmospheric general circulation model where the sign of the decadal TIO SST signal is varied—presenting warm and cool TIO scenarios. We find a relatively strong asymmetric response of TPO precipitation to TIO SST anomalies, where average TPO precipitation shows a strong increase in response to TIO cooling, but a weaker decrease in response to TIO warming. The asymmetry is hypothesized to result from differences in the depth of latent heating over the TIO, which ultimately affects the depth of the remote response over the TPO. Asymmetries also occur in the spatial pattern of the changes in precipitation and surface winds. In the fully coupled system, these asymmetries would be expected to also alter the background state on which ENSO develops, providing a further mechanism by which the TIO influence may vary depending on its phase.

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Esteban Abellán
,
Shayne McGregor
, and
Matthew H. England

Abstract

During the mature phase of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events there is a southward shift of anomalous zonal winds (SWS), which has been suggested to play a role in the seasonal phase locking of ENSO. Motivated by the fact that coupled climate models tend to underestimate this feature, this study examines the representation of the SWS in phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5). It is found that most models successfully reproduce the observed SWS, although the magnitude of the zonal wind stress anomaly is underestimated. Several significant differences between the models with and without the SWS are identified including biases in the magnitude and spatial distribution of precipitation and sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies during ENSO. Multiple-linear regression analysis suggests that the climatological meridional SST gradient as well as anomalous ENSO-driven convective activity over the northwest Pacific both might play a role in controlling the SWS. While the models that capture the SWS also simulate many more strong El Niño and La Niña events peaking at the correct time of year, the overall seasonal synchronization is still underestimated in these models. This is attributed to underestimated changes in warm water volume (WWV) during moderate El Niño events so that these events display relatively poor seasonal synchronization. Thus, while the SWS is an important metric, it is ultimately the magnitude and zonal extent of the wind changes that accompany this SWS that drive the changes in WWV and prime the system for termination.

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Axel Timmermann
,
Shayne McGregor
, and
Fei-Fei Jin

Abstract

Global sea level rise due to the thermal expansion of the warming oceans and freshwater input from melting glaciers and ice sheets is threatening to inundate low-lying islands and coastlines worldwide. At present the global mean sea level rises at 3.1 ± 0.7 mm yr−1 with an accelerating tendency. However, the magnitude of recent decadal sea level trends varies greatly spatially, attaining values of up to 10 mm yr−1 in some areas of the western tropical Pacific. Identifying the causes of recent regional sea level trends and understanding the patterns of future projected sea level change is of crucial importance. Using a wind-forced simplified dynamical ocean model, the study shows that the regional features of recent decadal and multidecadal sea level trends in the tropical Indo-Pacific can be attributed to changes in the prevailing wind regimes. Furthermore, it is demonstrated that within an ensemble of 10 state-of-the-art coupled general circulation models, forced by increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations over the next century, wind-induced redistributions of upper-ocean water play a key role in establishing the spatial characteristics of projected regional sea level rise. Wind-related changes in near-surface mass and heat convergence near the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Cook Islands, and French Polynesia oppose—but cannot cancel—the regional signal of global mean sea level rise.

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Shayne McGregor
,
Neil J. Holbrook
, and
Scott B. Power

Abstract

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre CGCM and a linear first baroclinic-mode ocean shallow-water model (SWM) are used to investigate ocean dynamic forcing mechanisms of the equatorial Pacific Ocean interdecadal sea surface temperature (SST) variability. An EOF analysis of the 13-yr low-pass Butterworth-filtered SST anomalies from a century-time-scale CGCM simulation reveals an SST anomaly spatial pattern and time variability consistent with the interdecadal Pacific oscillation. Results from an SWM simulation forced with wind stresses from the CGCM simulation are shown to compare well with the CGCM, and as such the SWM is then used to investigate the roles of “uncoupled” equatorial wind stress forcing, off-equatorial wind stress forcing (OffEqWF), and Rossby wave reflection at the western Pacific Ocean boundary, on the decadal equatorial thermocline depth anomalies.

Equatorial Pacific wind stresses are shown to explain a large proportion of the overall variance in the equatorial thermocline depth anomalies. However, OffEqWF beyond 12.5° latitude produces an interdecadal signature in the Niño-4 (Niño-3) region that explains approximately 10% (1.5%) of the filtered control simulation variance. Rossby wave reflection at the western Pacific boundary is shown to underpin the OffEqWF contribution to these equatorial anomalies. The implications of this result for the predictability of the decadal variations of thermocline depth are investigated with results showing that OffEqWF generates an equatorial response in the Niño-3 region up to 3 yr after the wind stress forcing is switched off. Further, a statistically significant correlation is found between thermocline depth anomalies in the off-equatorial zone and the Niño-3 region, with the Niño-3 region lagging by approximately 2 yr. The authors conclude that there is potential predictability of the OffEqWF equatorial thermocline depth anomalies with lead times of up to 3 yr when taking into account the amplitudes and locations of off-equatorial region Rossby waves.

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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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Shayne McGregor
,
Neil J. Holbrook
, and
Scott B. Power

Abstract

This study investigates the response of a stochastically forced coupled atmosphere–ocean model of the equatorial Pacific to off-equatorial wind stress anomaly forcing. The intermediate-complexity coupled ENSO model comprises a linear, first baroclinic mode, ocean shallow water model with a steady-state, two–pressure level (250 and 750 mb) atmospheric component that has been linearized about a state of rest on the β plane. Estimates of observed equatorial region stochastic forcing are calculated from NCEP–NCAR reanalysis surface winds for the period 1950–2006 using singular value decomposition. The stochastic forcing is applied to the model both with and without off-equatorial region wind stress anomalies (i.e., poleward of 12.5° latitude). It is found that the multiyear changes in the equatorial Pacific thermocline depth “background state” induced by off-equatorial forcing can affect the amplitude of modeled sea surface temperature anomalies by up to 1°C. Moreover, off-equatorial wind stress anomalies increased the modeled amplitude of the two biggest El Niño events in the twentieth century (1982/83 and 1997/98) by more than 0.5°C, resulting in a more realistic modeled response. These equatorial changes driven by off-equatorial region wind stress anomalies are highly predictable to two years in advance and may be useful as a physical basis to enhance multiyear probabilistic predictions of ENSO indices.

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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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