Forced changes to twentieth century ENSO diversity in a last Millennium context

  • Samantha StevensonEmail author
  • Antonietta Capotondi
  • John Fasullo
  • Bette Otto-Bliesner


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.


El Niño/Southern oscillation Climate variability Climate modeling Tropical pacific Climate dynamics 



This work is supported by an NSF EaSM Grant (AGS 1243125). The CESM project is supported by the National Science Foundation and the Office of Science (Biological and Environmental Research program) of the U.S. Department of Energy. Computing resources were provided by the Climate Simulation Laboratory at NCAR's Computational and Information Systems Laboratory (CISL), which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and other agencies.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Samantha Stevenson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Antonietta Capotondi
    • 2
  • John Fasullo
    • 1
  • Bette Otto-Bliesner
    • 1
  1. 1.Climate and Global Dynamics DivisionNational Center for Atmospheric ResearchBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Physical Sciences DivisionNational Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationBoulderUSA

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