The La Niña and El Niño phases of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) have major impacts on regional rainfall patterns around the globe, with substantial environmental, societal and economic implications. Long-term perspectives on ENSO behaviour, under changing background conditions, are essential to anticipating how ENSO phases may respond under future climate scenarios. Here, we derive a 7700-year, quantitative precipitation record using carbon isotope ratios from a single species of leaf preserved in lake sediments from subtropical eastern Australia. We find a generally wet (more La Niña-like) mid-Holocene that shifted towards drier and more variable climates after 3200 cal. yr BP, primarily driven by increasing frequency and strength of the El Niño phase. Climate model simulations implicate a progressive orbitally-driven weakening of the Pacific Walker Circulation as contributing to this change. At centennial scales, high rainfall characterised the Little Ice Age (~1450–1850 CE) in subtropical eastern Australia, contrasting with oceanic proxies that suggest El Niño-like conditions prevail during this period. Our data provide a new western Pacific perspective on Holocene ENSO variability and highlight the need to address ENSO reconstruction with a geographically diverse network of sites to characterise how both ENSO, and its impacts, vary in a changing climate.
Understanding El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) response to past climate forcings is hindered by conflicting paleoclimate evidence. Records from the eastern Pacific show an intensification of ENSO variability from early to late Holocene, while records from the central Pacific show highly variable ENSO throughout the Holocene without an obvious relation to insolation forcing, which is the main climate driver during this interval. Here, we show via climate model simulations that conflicting Holocene records can be reconciled by considering changes in the relative frequency of the three preferred spatial patterns in which El Niño events occur (Eastern Pacific, Central Pacific, and Coastal) and in the strength of their hydroclimatic impacts. The relationship between ENSO diversity and variance is not only crucial for interpreting paleo-ENSO records and understanding ENSO response to external forcings but can also be used across climate model simulations to help evaluate the realism of ENSO projections in a changing climate.
- Publication Date:
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Journal Name:
- Nature Communications
- Nature Publishing Group
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
More Like this
Climate Model Teleconnection Patterns Govern the Niño-3.4 Response to Early Nineteenth-Century Volcanism in Coral-Based Data Assimilation ReconstructionsAbstract Scientific understanding of low-frequency tropical Pacific variability, especially responses to perturbations in radiative forcing, suffers from short observational records, sparse proxy networks, and bias in model simulations. Here, we combine the strengths of proxies and models through coral-based paleoclimate data assimilation. We combine coral archives ( δ 18 O, Sr/Ca) with the dynamics, spatial teleconnections, and intervariable relationships of the CMIP5/PMIP3 Past1000 experiments using the Last Millennium Reanalysis data assimilation framework. This analysis creates skillful reconstructions of tropical Pacific temperatures over the observational era. However, during the period of intense volcanism in the early nineteenth century, southwestern Pacific corals produce El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) reconstructions that are of opposite sign from those from eastern Pacific corals and tree ring records. We systematically evaluate the source of this discrepancy using 1) single-proxy experiments, 2) varied proxy system models (PSMs), and 3) diverse covariance patterns from the Past1000 simulations. We find that individual proxy records and coral PSMs do not significantly contribute to the discrepancy. However, following major eruptions, the southwestern Pacific corals locally record more persistent cold anomalies than found in the Past1000 experiments and canonical ENSO teleconnections to the southwest Pacific strongly control the reconstruction response. Furthermore, using covariancemore »
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 Elmore »
The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is highly dependent on coupled atmosphere-ocean interactions and feedbacks, suggesting a tight relationship between ENSO strength and background climate conditions. However, the extent to which background climate state determines ENSO behavior remains in question. Here we present reconstructions of total variability and El Niño amplitude from individual foraminifera distributions at discrete time intervals over the past ~285,000 years across varying atmospheric CO2levels, global ice volume and sea level, and orbital insolation forcing. Our results show a strong correlation between eastern tropical Pacific Ocean mixed-layer thickness and both El Niño amplitude and central Pacific variability. This ENSO-thermocline relationship implicates upwelling feedbacks as the major factor controlling ENSO strength on millennial time scales. The primacy of the upwelling feedback in shaping ENSO behavior across many different background states suggests accurate quantification and modeling of this feedback is essential for predicting ENSO’s behavior under future climate conditions.
Although extended or ‘protracted’ El Niño and La Niña episodes were first suggested nearly 20 years ago, they have not received the attention of other ‘flavours’ of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) or low-frequency ‘ENSO-like’ phenomena. In this study, instrumental variables and palaeoclimatic reconstructions are used to investigate the most recent ‘protracted’ El Niño episode in 2014–2016, and place it into a longer historical context. Although just reaching the threshold for such an episode, the 2014–2016 ‘protracted’ El Niño had very severe societal, agricultural, environmental and ecological impacts, particularly in western Pacific regions like eastern Australia. We show that although ‘protracted’ ENSO episodes of either phase cause similar, near-global modulations of weather and climate as during more ‘classical’ events, impacts associated with ‘protracted’ episodes last longer, with strong influences in eastern Australia. The latter is a response to the dominance of Niño 4 sea surface temperature (SST) and associated atmospheric teleconnection anomalies during ‘protracted’ ENSO episodes. Importantly, while Niño 4 SST anomalies recorded during the austral summer of 2016 were the highest values on record, an analysis of long-term palaeoclimate records indicates that there may have been episodes of greater magnitude and duration than seen in instrumental observations. This suggestsmore »