Southern Hemisphere extra-tropical forcing: a new paradigm for El Niño-Southern Oscillation
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- Terray, P. Clim Dyn (2011) 36: 2171. doi:10.1007/s00382-010-0825-z
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The main goal of this paper is to shed additional light on the reciprocal dynamical linkages between mid-latitude Southern Hemisphere climate and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) signal. While our analysis confirms that ENSO is a dominant source of interannual variability in the Southern Hemisphere, it is also suggested here that subtropical dipole variability in both the Southern Indian and Atlantic Oceans triggered by Southern Hemisphere mid-latitude variability may also provide a controlling influence on ENSO in the equatorial Pacific. This subtropical forcing operates through various coupled air–sea feedbacks involving the propagation of subtropical sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies into the deep tropics of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans from boreal winter to boreal spring and a subsequent dynamical atmospheric response to these SST anomalies linking the three tropical basins at the beginning of the boreal spring. This atmospheric response is characterized by a significant weakening of the equatorial Atlantic and Indian Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). This weakened ITCZ forces an equatorial “cold Kelvin wave” response in the middle to upper troposphere that extends eastward from the heat sink regions into the western Pacific. By modulating the vertical temperature gradient and the stability of the atmosphere over the equatorial western Pacific Ocean, this Kelvin wave response promotes persistent zonal wind and convective anomalies over the western equatorial Pacific, which may trigger El Niño onset at the end of the boreal winter. These different processes explain why South Atlantic and Indian subtropical dipole time series indices are highly significant precursors of the Niño34 SST index several months in advance before the El Niño onset in the equatorial Pacific. This study illustrates that the atmospheric internal variability in the mid-latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere may significantly influence ENSO variability. However, this surprising relationship is observed only during recent decades, after the so-called 1976/1977 climate regime shift, suggesting a possible linkage with global warming or decadal fluctuations of the climate system.