The oceanic response to recent tropical eruptions is examined in Large Ensemble (LE) experiments from two fully coupled global climate models, the Community Earth System Model (CESM) and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory Earth System Model (ESM2M), each forced by a distinct volcanic forcing dataset. Following the simulated eruptions of Agung, El Chichón, and Pinatubo, the ocean loses heat and gains oxygen and carbon, in general agreement with available observations. In both models, substantial global surface cooling is accompanied by El Niño–like equatorial Pacific surface warming a year after the volcanic forcing peaks. A mechanistic analysis of the CESM and ESM2M responses to Pinatubo identifies remote wind forcing from the western Pacific as a major driver of this El Niño–like response. Following eruption, faster cooling over the Maritime Continent than adjacent oceans suppresses convection and leads to persistent westerly wind anomalies over the western tropical Pacific. These wind anomalies excite equatorial downwelling Kelvin waves and the upwelling of warm subsurface anomalies in the eastern Pacific, promoting the development of El Niño conditions through Bjerknes feedbacks a year after eruption. This El Niño–like response drives further ocean heat loss through enhanced equatorial cloud albedo, and dominates global carbon uptake as upwellingmore »
The El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) shapes global climate patterns yet its sensitivity to external climate forcing remains uncertain. Modeling studies suggest that ENSO is sensitive to sulfate aerosol forcing associated with explosive volcanism but observational support for this effect remains ambiguous. Here, we used absolutely dated fossil corals from the central tropical Pacific to gauge ENSO’s response to large volcanic eruptions of the last millennium. Superposed epoch analysis reveals a weak tendency for an El Niño–like response in the year after an eruption, but this response is not statistically significant, nor does it appear after the outsized 1257 Samalas eruption. Our results suggest that those models showing a strong ENSO response to volcanic forcing may overestimate the size of the forced response relative to natural ENSO variability.
- Publication Date:
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- Page Range or eLocation-ID:
- p. 1477-1481
- American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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