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Title: The Response of Tropical Organized Convection to El Niño Warming

Convective organization has a large impact on precipitation and feeds back on larger‐scale circulations in the tropics. The degree of this convective organization changes with modes of climate variability like the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), but because organization is not represented in current climate models, a quantitative assessment of these shifts has not been possible. Here, we construct multidecade satellite climatologies of occurrence of tropical convective organization and its properties and assess changes with ENSO phase. The occurrence of organized deep convection becomes more concentrated, increasing threefold in the eastern and central Pacific during El Niño and decreasing twofold outside of these regions. Both horizontal extent of the cold cloud shield and convective depth increase in regions of positive sea surface temperature anomaly (SSTa); however, the regions of greatest convective deepening are those of large‐scale ascent, rather than those of warmest SSTa. Extent decreases with SSTa at a rate of about 20 km/K, while the SSTa dependence of depth is only about 0.2 K/K. We introduce two values to describe convective changes with ENSO more succinctly: (1) an information entropy metric to quantify the clustering of convective system occurrences and (2) a growth metric to quantify deepening relative to spreading over the system lifetime. Finally, with collocated precipitation data, we see that rainfall attributable to convective organization jumps up to 5% with warming. Rain intensity and amount increase for a given system size during El Niño, but a given rain amount may actually fall with higher intensity during La Niña.

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Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
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Publisher / Repository:
DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 8481-8500
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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