, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 101-112

Quasi-quadrennial and quasi-biennial variability in the equatorial Pacific

Abstract

Evaluation of competing El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) theories requires one to identify separate spectral peaks in equatorial wind and sea-surface temperature (SST) time series. To sharpen this identification, we examine the seasonal-to-interannual variability of these fields by the data-adaptive method of multi-channel singular spectrum analysis (M-SSA). M-SSA is applied to the equatorial band (4°N-4°S), using 1950–1990 data from the Comprehensive Ocean and Atmosphere Data Set. Two major interannual oscillations are found in the equatorial SST and surface zonal wind fields, U. The main peak is centered at about 52-months; we refer to it as the quasi-quadrennial (QQ) mode. Quasi-biennial (QB) variability is split between two modes, with periods near 28 months and 24 months. A faster, 15-month oscillation has smaller amplitude. The QQ mode dominates the variance and has the most distinct spectral peak. In time-longitude reconstructions of this mode, the SST has the form of a standing oscillation in the eastern equatorial Pacific, while the U-field is dominated by a standing oscillation pattern in the western Pacific and exhibits also slight eastward propagation in the central and western Pacific. The locations of maximum anomalies in both QB modes are similar to those of the QQ mode. Slight westward migration in SST, across the eastern and central, and eastward propagation of U, across the western and central Pacific, are found. The significant wind anomaly covers a smaller region than for the QQ. The QQ and QB modes together represent the ENSO variability well and interfere constructively during major events. The sharper definition of the QQ spectral peak and its dominance are consistent with the “devil's staircase” interaction mechanism between the annual cycle and ENSO.