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Title: Toward Understanding El Niño Southern-Oscillation’s Spatiotemporal Pattern Diversity
The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon, manifested by the great swings of large-scale sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies over the equatorial central to eastern Pacific oceans, is a major source of interannual global shifts in climate patterns and weather activities. ENSO’s SST anomalies exhibit remarkable spatiotemporal pattern diversity (STPD), with their spatial pattern diversity dominated by Central Pacific (CP) and Eastern Pacific (EP) El Niño events and their temporal diversity marked by different timescales and intermittency in these types of events. By affecting various Earth system components, ENSO and its STPD yield significant environmental, ecological, economic, and societal impacts over the globe. The basic dynamics of ENSO as a canonical oscillator generated by coupled ocean–atmosphere interactions in the tropical Pacific have been largely understood. A minimal simple conceptual model such as the recharge oscillator paradigm provides means for quantifying the linear and nonlinear seasonally modulated growth rate and frequency together with ENSO’s state-dependent noise forcing for understanding ENSO’s amplitude and periodicity, boreal winter-time phase locking, and warm/cold phase asymmetry. However, the dynamical mechanisms explaining the key features of ENSO STPD associated with CP and EP events remain to be better understood. This article provides a summary of the recent active research on the dynamics of ENSO STPD together with discussions on challenges and outlooks for theoretical, diagnostic, and numerical modeling approaches to advance our understanding and modeling of ENSO, its STPD, and their broad impacts.  more » « less
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Frontiers in Earth Science
Medium: X
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National Science Foundation
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  1. Abstract

    A cyclostationary linear inverse model (CSLIM) is used to investigate the seasonal growth of tropical Pacific Ocean El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events with canonical, central Pacific (CP), or eastern Pacific (EP) sea surface temperature (SST) characteristics. Analysis shows that all types of ENSO events experience maximum growth toward final states occurring in November and December. ENSO events with EP characteristics also experience growth into May and June, but CP events do not. A single dominant “ENSO mode,” growing from an equatorial heat content anomaly into a characteristic ENSO-type SST pattern in about 9 months (consistent with the delayed/recharge oscillator model of ENSO), is essential for the predictable development of all ENSO events. Notably, its seasonality is responsible for the late-calendar-year maximum in ENSO amplification. However, this ENSO mode alone does not capture the observed growth and evolution of diverse ENSO events, which additionally involve the seasonal evolution of other nonorthogonal Floquet modes. EP event growth occurs when the ENSO mode is initially “covered up” in combination with other Floquet modes. The ENSO mode’s slow seasonal evolution allows it to emerge while the other modes rapidly evolve and/or decay, leading to strongly amplifying and more predictable EP events. CP events develop when the initial state has a substantial contribution from Floquet modes with meridional mode–like SST structures. Thus, while nearly all ENSO events involve the seasonally varying ENSO-mode dynamics, the diversity and predictability of ENSO events cannot be understood without identifying contributions from the remaining Floquet modes.

    Significance Statement

    The purpose of this study is to identify structures that lead to seasonal growth of diverse types of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events. An important contribution from this study is that it uses an observationally constrained, empirically derived seasonal model. We find that processes affecting the evolution of diverse ENSO events are strongly seasonally dependent. ENSO events with eastern equatorial Pacific sea surface temperature (SST) characteristics are closely related to a single “ENSO mode” that resembles theoretical models of ENSO variability. ENSO events that have central equatorial Pacific SST characteristics include contributions from additional “meridional mode” structures that evolve via different physical processes. These findings are an important step in evaluating the seasonal predictability of ENSO diversity.

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  2. 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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  3. The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon features rich sea surface temperature (SST) spatial pattern variations dominated by the Central Pacific (CP) and Eastern Pacific (EP) patterns during its warm phase. Understanding such ENSO pattern diversity has been a subject under extensive research activity. To provide a framework for unveiling the fundamental dynamics of ENSO diversity, an intermediate coupled model based on the Cane-Zebiak-type framework, named RCZ, is established in this study. Compared with the original Cane-Zebiak model, RCZ consists of revised model formulation and well-tuned parameterization schemes. All model components are carefully validated against the observations via the standalone mode, in which the observed anomalous SST (wind stress) forcing is prescribed to drive the atmospheric (oceanic) component. The superiority of RCZ’s model components over those in the original Cane-Zebiak model is evidenced by their better performance in simulating the observations. Coupled simulation with RCZ satisfactorily reproduces aspects of the observed ENSO characteristics, including the spatial pattern, phase-locking, amplitude asymmetry, and, particularly, ENSO diversity/bi-modality. RCZ serves as a promising tool for studying dynamics of ENSO diversity as it resolves most of the relevant processes proposed in the literature, including atmospheric nonlinear convective heating, oceanic nonlinear dynamical heating, and the ENSO/westerly wind burst interaction. 
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  4. Abstract

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