skip to main content

Title: The Dependence of Tropical Modes of Variability on Zonal Asymmetry

Tropical modes of variability, including the Madden‐Julian Oscillation (MJO) and the El Niño‐Southern Oscillation (ENSO), are challenging to represent in climate models. Previous studies suggest their fundamental dependence on zonal asymmetry, but such dependence is rarely addressed with fully coupled ocean dynamics. This study fills the gap by using fully coupled, idealized Community Earth System Model (CESM) and comparing two nominally ocean‐covered configurations with and without a meridional boundary. For the MJO‐like intraseasonal mode, its separation from equatorial Kelvin waves and the eastward propagation of its convective and dynamic signals depend on the zonal gradient of the mean state. For the ENSO‐like interannual mode, in the absence of the ocean's meridional boundary, a circum‐equatorial dominant mode emerges with distinct ocean dynamics. The interpretation of the dependence of these modes on zonal asymmetry is relevant to their representation in realistic climate models.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
1648629 1830729
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Geophysical Research Letters
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Idealized models can reveal insights into Earth’s climate system by reducing its complexities. However, their potential is undermined by the scarcity of fully coupled idealized models with components comparable to contemporary, comprehensive Earth System Models. To fill this gap, we compare and contrast the climates of two idealized planets which build on the Simpler Models initiative of the Community Earth System Model (CESM). Using the fully coupled CESM, the Aqua configuration is ocean‐covered except for two polar land caps, and the Ridge configuration has an additional pole‐to‐pole grid‐cell‐wide continent. Contrary to most sea surface temperature profiles assumed for atmosphere‐only aquaplanet experiments with the thermal maximum on the equator, the coupled Aqua configuration is characterized by a global cold belt of wind‐driven equatorial upwelling, analogous to the eastern Pacific cold tongue. The presence of the meridional boundary on Ridge introduces zonal asymmetry in thermal and circulation features, similar to the contrast between western and eastern Pacific. This zonal asymmetry leads to a distinct climate state from Aqua, cooled by ∼2°C via the radiative feedback of clouds and water vapor. The meridional boundary of Ridge is also crucial for producing a more Earth‐like climate state compared to Aqua, including features of atmospheric and ocean circulation, the seasonal cycle of the Intertropical Convergence Zone, and the meridional heat transport. The mean climates of these two basic configurations provide a baseline for exploring other idealized ocean geometries, and their application for investigating various features and scale interactions in the coupled climate system.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Studies have indicated that North Pacific sea surface temperature (SST) variability can significantly modulate El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), but there has been little effort to put extratropical–tropical interactions into the context of historical events. To quantify the role of the North Pacific in pacing the timing and magnitude of observed ENSO, we use a fully coupled climate model to produce an ensemble of North Pacific Ocean–Global Atmosphere (nPOGA) SST pacemaker simulations. In nPOGA, SST anomalies are restored back to observations in the North Pacific (>15°N) but are free to evolve throughout the rest of the globe. We find that the North Pacific SST has significantly influenced observed ENSO variability, accounting for approximately 15% of the total variance in boreal fall and winter. The connection between the North and tropical Pacific arises from two physical pathways: 1) a wind–evaporation–SST (WES) propagating mechanism, and 2) a Gill-like atmospheric response associated with anomalous deep convection in boreal summer and fall, which we refer to as the summer deep convection (SDC) response. The SDC response accounts for 25% of the observed zonal wind variability around the equatorial date line. On an event-by-event basis, nPOGA most closely reproduces the 2014/15 and the 2015/16 El Niños. In particular, we show that the 2015 Pacific meridional mode event increased wind forcing along the equator by 20%, potentially contributing to the extreme nature of the 2015/16 El Niño. Our results illustrate the significant role of extratropical noise in pacing the initiation and magnitude of ENSO events and may improve the predictability of ENSO on seasonal time scales.

    more » « less
  3. 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.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    In situ observation networks and reanalyses products of the state of the atmosphere and upper ocean show well-defined, large-scale patterns of coupled climate variability on time scales ranging from seasons to several decades. We summarize these phenomena and their physics, which have been revealed by analysis of observations, by experimentation with uncoupled and coupled atmosphere and ocean models with a hierarchy of complexity, and by theoretical developments. We start with a discussion of the seasonal cycle in the equatorial tropical Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, which are clearly affected by coupling between the atmosphere and the ocean. We then discuss the tropical phenomena that only exist because of the coupling between the atmosphere and the ocean: the Pacific and Atlantic meridional modes, the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in the Pacific, and a phenomenon analogous to ENSO in the Atlantic. For ENSO, we further discuss the sources of irregularity and asymmetry between warm and cold phases of ENSO, and the response of ENSO to forcing. Fundamental to variability on all time scales in the midlatitudes of the Northern Hemisphere are preferred patterns of uncoupled atmospheric variability that exist independent of any changes in the state of the ocean, land, or distribution of sea ice. These patterns include the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), the North Pacific Oscillation (NPO), and the Pacific–North American (PNA) pattern; they are most active in wintertime, with a temporal spectrum that is nearly white. Stochastic variability in the NPO, PNA, and NAO force the ocean on days to interannual times scales by way of turbulent heat exchange and Ekman transport, and on decadal and longer time scales by way of wind stress forcing. The PNA is partially responsible for the Pacific decadal oscillation; the NAO is responsible for an analogous phenomenon in the North Atlantic subpolar gyre. In models, stochastic forcing by the NAO also gives rise to variability in the strength of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) that is partially responsible for multidecadal anomalies in the North Atlantic climate known as the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation (AMO); observations do not yet exist to adequately determine the physics of the AMO. We review the progress that has been made in the past 50 years in understanding each of these phenomena and the implications for short-term (seasonal-to-interannual) climate forecasts. We end with a brief discussion of advances of things that are on the horizon, under the rug, and over the rainbow.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    The El Niño—Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is an important mode of tropical Pacific atmosphere‐ocean variability that drives teleconnections with weather and climate globally. However, prior studies using state‐of‐the‐art climate models lack consensus regarding future ENSO projections and are often impacted by tropical Pacific sea‐surface temperature (SST) biases. We used 173 simulations from 29 climate models participating in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, version 6 (CMIP6) to analyze model biases and future ENSO projections. We analyzed two ENSO indices, namely the ENSO Longitude Index (ELI), which measures zonal shifts in tropical Pacific deep convection and accounts for changes in background SST, and the Niño 3.4 index, which measures SST anomalies in the central‐eastern equatorial Pacific. We found that the warm eastern tropical‐subtropical Pacific SST bias typical of previous generations of climate models persists into many of the CMIP6 models. Future projections of ENSO shift toward more El Niño‐like conditions based on ELI in 48% of simulations and 55% of models, in association with a future weakening of the zonal equatorial Pacific SST gradient. On the other hand, none of the models project a significant shift toward La Niña‐like conditions. The standard deviation of the Niño 3.4 index indicates a lack of consensus on whether an increase or decrease in ENSO variability is expected in the future. Finally, we found a possible relationship between historical SST and low‐level cloud cover biases in the ENSO region and future changes in ELI; however, this result may be impacted by limitations in data availability.

    more » « less