, Volume 40, Issue 5-6, pp 1169-1181
Date: 14 Aug 2012

Favorable connections between seasonal footprinting mechanism and El Niño

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Previous studies suggested that the wintertime SST in the North Pacific that are generated by the concurrent North Pacific Oscillation (NPO) are able to force El Niño during subsequent winter via the so-called ‘seasonal footprinting mechanism’ (SFM). We examine how the NPO effectively generates the El Niño via the SFM in the observations and models. The occurrence ratio for El Niño under conditions of NPO forcing during the previous winters is about 41 % for the period of 61 years (1949–2009), indicating that the atmospheric forcing from the mid-latitudes through the SFM does not always trigger an El Niño. We observed certain favorable conditions under which the SFM may effectively induce El Niño. We directly compared these observations with two cases: when the wintertime NPO leads to El Niño during the following winter through the SFM, and when the wintertime NPO is not followed by El Niño. Our analysis demonstrates that the spatial structures of the NPO, associated wind speed and net heat flux in the northeast Pacific, differ between the two cases. Such differences determine the existence of a footprint SST in the northeastern Pacific during the late spring and summer, which plays a key role in initiating the El Niño via the projection of westerly wind stress anomalies onto the equatorial Pacific during the same seasons. By conducting linear baroclinic model experiments, it is found that the positions of La Niña SST forcing during the previous winter are able to modify the spatial structures of the NPO, which produces favorable conditions for the El Niño during subsequent winter via the SFM.