Advances in Atmospheric Sciences

, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 674–691 | Cite as

On the ENSO Mechanisms

  • Chunzai WangEmail author


The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is an interannual phenomenon involved in the tropical Pacific Ocean-atmosphere interactions. The oscillatory nature of ENSO requires both positive and negative ocean-atmosphere feedbacks. The positive feedback is dated back to Bjerknes' hypothesis in the 1960s, and different negative feedbacks have been proposed since the 1980s associated with the delayed oscillator, the western Pacific oscillator, the recharge-discharge oscillator, and the advective-reflective oscillator. The delayed oscillator assumes that wave reflection at the western boundary provides a negative feedback for the coupled system to oscillate. The western Pacific oscillator emphasizes equatorial wind in the western Pacific that provides a negative feedback for the coupled system. The recharge-discharge oscillator argues that discharge and recharge of equatorial heat content cause the coupled system to oscillate. The advective-reflective oscillator emphasizes the importance of zonal advection associated with wave reflection at both the western and eastern boundaries. All of these physics are summarized in a unified ENSO oscillator. The delayed oscillator, the western Pacific oscillator, the recharge-discharge oscillator, and the advective-reflective oscillator can be extracted as special cases of the unified oscillator. As suggested by this unified oscillator, all of the previous ENSO oscillator mechanisms may be operating in nature.

Key words

El Niño-Southern Oscillation ENSO theory Climate variability Ocean-atmosphere interactions 


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Copyright information

© Advances in Atmospheric Sciences 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Physical Oceanography DivisionNO AA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological LaboratoryMiamiUSA

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