, Volume 39, Issue 12, pp 2833-2846
Date: 23 Dec 2011

Linkages between the North Pacific Oscillation and central tropical Pacific SSTs at low frequencies

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Abstract

The North Pacific Oscillation (NPO) recently (re-)emerged in the literature as a key atmospheric mode in Northern Hemisphere climate variability, especially in the Pacific sector. Defined as a dipole of sea level pressure (SLP) between, roughly, Alaska and Hawaii, the NPO is connected with downstream weather conditions over North America, serves as the atmospheric forcing pattern of the North Pacific Gyre Oscillation (NPGO), and is a potential mechanism linking extratropical atmospheric variability to El Niño events in the tropical Pacific. This paper explores further the forcing dynamics of the NPO and, in particular, that of its individual poles. Using observational data and experiments with a simple atmospheric general circulation model (AGCM), we illustrate that the southern pole of the NPO (i.e., the one near Hawaii) contains significant power at low frequencies (7–10 years), while the northern pole (i.e., the one near Alaska) has no dominant frequencies. When examining the low-frequency content of the NPO and its poles separately, we discover that low-frequency variations (periods >7 years) of the NPO (particularly its subtropical node) are intimately tied to variability in central equatorial Pacific sea surface temperatures (SSTs) associated with the El Niño-Modoki/Central Pacific Warming (CPW) phenomenon. This result suggests that fluctuations in subtropical North Pacific SLP are important to monitor for Pacific low-frequency climate change. Using the simple AGCM, we also illustrate that variability in central tropical Pacific SSTs drives a significant fraction of variability of the southern node of the NPO. Taken together, the results highlight important links between secondary modes (i.e., CPW-NPO-NPGO) in Pacific decadal variability, akin to already established relationships between the primary modes of Pacific climate variability (i.e., canonical El Niño, the Aleutian Low, and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation).