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Large-Scale Atmospheric Circulation Features of Warm and Cold Episodes in the Tropical Pacific

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

Ship observations of sea surface temperature (SST), sea level pressure and surface wind, and satellite measurements of outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) (an indicator of deep tropical convection) are used to describe the large-scale atmospheric circulation over the tropical Pacific during composite warm and cold episodes. Results are based on linear regression analysis between the circulation parameters and an index of SST in the tropical Pacific during the period 1946–85 (1974–89 for OLR). Warm episodes along the Peru coast (i.e., El Niño events) and basin-wide warmings associated with the Southern Oscillation are examined separately. Charts of the total as well as anomalous fields of SST, sea level pressure, surface wind and OLR for both warm and cold episodes are presented.

SST and surface wind anomalies associated with warm episodes are consistent with the results of Rasmusson and Carpenter (1982). El Niño events are characterized by strong positive SST anomalies along the coasts of Ecuador and Peru and along the equator eastward of 130°W, and by an equatorward expansion and intensification of the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) over the eastern Pacific. Basin-wide warm episodes exhibit positive SST anomalies along the equator eastward of 170°E, a southward expansion and intensification of the ITCZ, and an eastward shift and strengthening of the Indonesian convective zone. The movements of the precipitation zones are in good agreement with anomalous large scale surface wind convergence, Meridional wind anomalies dominate the anomalous surface convergence throughout the tropical Pacific.

Surface winds are consistent with the sea level pressure distribution, with down-gradient flow near the equator, and with Ekman balance in the subtropics. A center of below normal sea level pressure over the equatorial eastern Pacific, distinct from the negative pressure anomalies over the subtropical southeast Pacific, is observed during basin-wide warm episodes. This equatorial feature is highly correlated with local SST and appears to be a boundary layer phenomenon.

There is a net increase in deep convection over the tropical Pacific during warm episodes. Enhanced convection in the ITCZ during warm years is not accompanied by a net increase in surface wind convergence. A comparison between precipitation and surface wind convergence suggests that moisture convergence extends through a deeper layer in the equatorial western Pacific than in the ITCZ over the eastern Pacific.

The contrasting distributions of surface relative humidity, total cloudiness and air-sea temperature difference over the eastern tropical Pacific during basin-wide warm and cold episodes are described in the context of boundary layer processes.

Abstract

Ship observations of sea surface temperature (SST), sea level pressure and surface wind, and satellite measurements of outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) (an indicator of deep tropical convection) are used to describe the large-scale atmospheric circulation over the tropical Pacific during composite warm and cold episodes. Results are based on linear regression analysis between the circulation parameters and an index of SST in the tropical Pacific during the period 1946–85 (1974–89 for OLR). Warm episodes along the Peru coast (i.e., El Niño events) and basin-wide warmings associated with the Southern Oscillation are examined separately. Charts of the total as well as anomalous fields of SST, sea level pressure, surface wind and OLR for both warm and cold episodes are presented.

SST and surface wind anomalies associated with warm episodes are consistent with the results of Rasmusson and Carpenter (1982). El Niño events are characterized by strong positive SST anomalies along the coasts of Ecuador and Peru and along the equator eastward of 130°W, and by an equatorward expansion and intensification of the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) over the eastern Pacific. Basin-wide warm episodes exhibit positive SST anomalies along the equator eastward of 170°E, a southward expansion and intensification of the ITCZ, and an eastward shift and strengthening of the Indonesian convective zone. The movements of the precipitation zones are in good agreement with anomalous large scale surface wind convergence, Meridional wind anomalies dominate the anomalous surface convergence throughout the tropical Pacific.

Surface winds are consistent with the sea level pressure distribution, with down-gradient flow near the equator, and with Ekman balance in the subtropics. A center of below normal sea level pressure over the equatorial eastern Pacific, distinct from the negative pressure anomalies over the subtropical southeast Pacific, is observed during basin-wide warm episodes. This equatorial feature is highly correlated with local SST and appears to be a boundary layer phenomenon.

There is a net increase in deep convection over the tropical Pacific during warm episodes. Enhanced convection in the ITCZ during warm years is not accompanied by a net increase in surface wind convergence. A comparison between precipitation and surface wind convergence suggests that moisture convergence extends through a deeper layer in the equatorial western Pacific than in the ITCZ over the eastern Pacific.

The contrasting distributions of surface relative humidity, total cloudiness and air-sea temperature difference over the eastern tropical Pacific during basin-wide warm and cold episodes are described in the context of boundary layer processes.

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