This study investigates the seasonal-to-interannual variability of the barrier layer (BL) associated with El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) using in situ temperature-salinity observations and simple ocean assimilation data (SODA). The comparisons with the BL derived from the in situ observations show that SODA successfully captures the variability of the BL in the Pacific warm pool. On seasonal timescale, based on the empirical orthogonal function (EOF) analysis, we identify that three seasonal leading modes of the BL along the equatorial Pacific are closely associated with the transition, resurgence and onset of ENSO, respectively. We also confirm that two interannual leading modes of the BL are related to different flavors of ENSO events. EOF1 mainly embodies a combined response to the central and east Pacific ENSO events while EOF2 is related to the central Pacific ENSO events. We especially focus on the contrast of the BL between east Pacific El Niño (EPEN) and central Pacific El Niño (CPEN). During EPEN, the abnormally thick BL appears in the east of the dateline. It follows the sea surface salinity front to shift zonally with the evolution of EPEN event, and propagates toward the central Pacific. It can be attributed to horizontal ocean advection, heavy precipitation and the downwelling Kelvin waves. In contrast, during CPEN, the abnormally thick BL is confined to the region between 160°E and 180°E around the SSS front without significant west–east displacement. It is mainly dominated by the local processes including Ekman pumping, precipitation, and zonal ocean advection. Different from the BL in the EPEN events, it has no evident basin-scale propagating signal.
Pacific warm pool Barrier layer Sea surface salinity El Niño/Southern Oscillation East Pacific El Niño Central Pacific El Niño
This study is supported by the National Basic Research Program of China (2013CB430304), National Natural Science Foundation (41106005, 41176003, 41206178, 41376015, 41376013, and 41306006), National High-Tech R&D Program (2013AA09A505) of China, and Global Change and Air-Sea Interaction of China (GASI-IPOVAI-04, GASI-01-01-12).
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