Asia-Pacific Journal of Atmospheric Sciences

, Volume 50, Issue 2, pp 229-237

First online:

The role of ENSO in global ocean temperature changes during 1955–2011 simulated with a 1D climate model

  • Roy W. SpencerAffiliated withEarth System Science Center, University of Alabama in HuntsvilleUAH Earth System Science Center Email author 
  • , William D. BraswellAffiliated withEarth System Science Center, University of Alabama in Huntsville

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Global average ocean temperature variations to 2,000 m depth during 1955–2011 are simulated with a 40 layer 1D forcing-feedback-mixing model for three forcing cases. The first case uses standard anthropogenic and volcanic external radiative forcings. The second adds non-radiative internal forcing (ocean mixing changes initiated in the top 200 m) proportional to the Multivariate ENSO Index (MEI) to represent an internal mode of natural variability. The third case further adds ENSO-related radiative forcing proportional to MEI as a possible natural cloud forcing mechanism associated with atmospheric circulation changes. The model adjustable parameters are net radiative feedback, effective diffusivities, and internal radiative (e.g., cloud) and non-radiative (ocean mixing) forcing coefficients at adjustable time lags. Model output is compared to Levitus ocean temperature changes in 50 m layers during 1955–2011 to 700 m depth, and to lag regression coefficients between satellite radiative flux variations and sea surface temperature between 2000 and 2010. A net feedback parameter of 1.7Wm−2 K−1 with only anthropogenic and volcanic forcings increases to 2.8Wm−2 K−1 when all ENSO forcings (which are one-third radiative) are included, along with better agreement between model and observations. The results suggest ENSO can influence multi-decadal temperature trends, and that internal radiative forcing of the climate system affects the diagnosis of feedbacks. Also, the relatively small differences in model ocean warming associated with the three cases suggests that the observed levels of ocean warming since the 1950s is not a very strong constraint on our estimates of climate sensitivity.

Key words

Climate sensitivity climate change climate modeling El Nino Southern Oscillation ocean heat content