Climate Dynamics

, Volume 43, Issue 12, pp 3367-3376

First online:

Extra-tropical atmospheric response to ENSO in the CMIP5 models

  • Margaret M. HurwitzAffiliated withGoddard Earth Sciences Technology and Research (GESTAR), Morgan State UniversityNASA Goddard Space Flight Center Email author 
  • , Natalia CalvoAffiliated withUniversidad Complutense de Madrid
  • , Chaim I. GarfinkelAffiliated withHebrew University
  • , Amy H. ButlerAffiliated withCIRES/NOAA Earth Science Research Laboratory
  • , Sarah InesonAffiliated withMet Office Hadley Centre
  • , Chiara CagnazzoAffiliated withIstituto di Fisica dell’Atmosfera e del Clima, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (ISAC–CNR)
  • , Elisa ManziniAffiliated withMax Planck Institute for Meteorology
  • , Cristina Peña-OrtizAffiliated withUniversidad Pablo de Olavide

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The seasonal mean extra-tropical atmospheric response to El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is assessed in the historical and pre-industrial control CMIP5 simulations. This analysis considers two types of El Niño events, characterized by positive sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in either the central equatorial Pacific (CP) or eastern equatorial Pacific (EP), as well as EP and CP La Niña events, characterized by negative SST anomalies in the same two regions. Seasonal mean geopotential height anomalies in key regions typify the magnitude and structure of the disruption of the Walker circulation cell in the tropical Pacific, upper tropospheric ENSO teleconnections and the polar stratospheric response. In the CMIP5 ensembles, the magnitude of the Walker cell disruption is correlated with the strength of the mid-latitude responses in the upper troposphere i.e., the North Pacific and South Pacific lows strengthen during El Niño events. The simulated responses to El Niño and La Niña have opposite sign. The seasonal mean extra-tropical, upper tropospheric responses to EP and CP events are indistinguishable. The ENSO responses in the MERRA reanalysis lie within the model scatter of the historical simulations. Similar responses are simulated in the pre-industrial and historical CMIP5 simulations. Overall, there is a weak correlation between the strength of the tropical response to ENSO and the strength of the polar stratospheric response. ENSO-related polar stratospheric variability is best simulated in the “high-top” subset of models with a well-resolved stratosphere.


ENSO Stratosphere Teleconnections CMIP5