Forced changes to twentieth century ENSO diversity in a last Millennium context
The El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) exhibits considerable differences between the evolution of individual El Niño and La Niña events (‘ENSO diversity’), with significant implications for impacts studies. However, the degree to which external forcing may affect ENSO diversity is not well understood, due to both internal variability and potentially compensatory contributions from multiple forcings. The Community Earth System Model Last Millennium Ensemble (CESM LME) provides an ideal testbed for studying the sensitivity of twentieth century ENSO to forced climate changes, as it contains many realizations of the 850–2005 period with differing combinations of forcings. Metrics of ENSO amplitude and diversity are compared across LME simulations, and although forced changes to ENSO amplitude are generally small, forced changes to diversity are often detectable. Anthropogenic changes to greenhouse gas and ozone/aerosol emissions modify the persistence of Eastern and Central Pacific El Niño events, through shifts in the upwelling and zonal advective feedbacks; these influences generally cancel one another over the twentieth century. Other forcings can also be quite important: land use changes amplify Eastern Pacific El Niño events via modulating zonal advective heating, and orbital forcing tends to preferentially terminate twentieth century Central Pacific El Niño events due to enhanced eastern Pacific cooling during boreal winter and spring. Our results indicate that multiple anthropogenic and natural forcings can have substantial impacts on ENSO diversity, and suggest that correctly representing the net ENSO diversity response to climate change will depend on the precise balance between all these influences.