Extra-tropical atmospheric response to ENSO in the CMIP5 models

Abstract

The seasonal mean extra-tropical atmospheric response to El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is assessed in the historical and pre-industrial control CMIP5 simulations. This analysis considers two types of El Niño events, characterized by positive sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in either the central equatorial Pacific (CP) or eastern equatorial Pacific (EP), as well as EP and CP La Niña events, characterized by negative SST anomalies in the same two regions. Seasonal mean geopotential height anomalies in key regions typify the magnitude and structure of the disruption of the Walker circulation cell in the tropical Pacific, upper tropospheric ENSO teleconnections and the polar stratospheric response. In the CMIP5 ensembles, the magnitude of the Walker cell disruption is correlated with the strength of the mid-latitude responses in the upper troposphere i.e., the North Pacific and South Pacific lows strengthen during El Niño events. The simulated responses to El Niño and La Niña have opposite sign. The seasonal mean extra-tropical, upper tropospheric responses to EP and CP events are indistinguishable. The ENSO responses in the MERRA reanalysis lie within the model scatter of the historical simulations. Similar responses are simulated in the pre-industrial and historical CMIP5 simulations. Overall, there is a weak correlation between the strength of the tropical response to ENSO and the strength of the polar stratospheric response. ENSO-related polar stratospheric variability is best simulated in the “high-top” subset of models with a well-resolved stratosphere.

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Acknowledgments

Margaret M. Hurwitz thanks the NASA Atmospheric Composition, Modeling and Analysis Program (ACMAP) and Modeling, Analysis and Prediction (MAP) program for funding, and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and Stratospheric Processes and their Role in Climate (SPARC) DynVar for travel support. Sarah Ineson was supported by the Joint DECC/Defra Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme (GA01101). The authors thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback.

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Correspondence to Margaret M. Hurwitz.

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Hurwitz, M.M., Calvo, N., Garfinkel, C.I. et al. Extra-tropical atmospheric response to ENSO in the CMIP5 models. Clim Dyn 43, 3367–3376 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-014-2110-z

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Keywords

  • ENSO
  • Stratosphere
  • Teleconnections
  • CMIP5