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The role of interannual ENSO events in decadal timescale transitions of the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation

Abstract

The build-up of decadal timescale upper ocean heat content in the off-equatorial western tropical Pacific can provide necessary conditions for interannual El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events to contribute to decadal timescale transitions of tropical Pacific SSTs to the opposite phase of the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO). This can be viewed as a corollary to subseasonal westerly wind burst events contributing to El Niño interannual timescale transitions. A long pre-industrial control run with CESM1 is analyzed to show that there is a greater chance of ENSO activity to contribute to an IPO transition when off-equatorial western Pacific Ocean heat content reaches either a maximum (for El Niño to contribute to a transition to positive IPO) or minimum (for La Niña to contribute to a transition to negative IPO) as seen in observations. If above a necessary ocean heat content threshold, the convergence associated with westerly anomaly near-equatorial surface winds associated with El Niño activity can draw that heat content equatorward to sustain anomalously warm western and central Pacific SSTs. These are associated with positive precipitation and convective heating anomalies, a Gill-type response and wind stress curl anomalies that continue to feed warm water into the near-equatorial western Pacific. These conditions then sustain the decadal-timescale transition to positive IPO (with the opposite sign for transition to negative IPO). Associated central equatorial Pacific convective heating anomalies produce SLP and wind stress anomalies in the North and South Pacific that can excite westward-propagating off-equatorial oceanic Rossby waves to contribute to the western Pacific thermocline depth and consequent heat content anomalies.

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Data availability

The HadISST data are available from: https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/hadobs/hadisst/. The CESM solutions / datasets used in this study are freely available from the NCAR Digital Asset Services Hub (DASH) at data.ucar.edu or from the links provided from the CESM web site at www.cesm.ucar.edu.

Code availability

Previous and current CESM versions are freely available at www.cesm.ucar.edu:/models/cesm2/.

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge insightful discussions with Dr. Fei-Fei Jin. Portions of this study were supported by the Regional and Global Model Analysis (RGMA) component of Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling in the Earth and Environmental Systems Sciences Division of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Biological & Environmental Research (BER) via National Science Foundation IA 1947282, and also by RGMA support of the HiLAT project at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory which is operated by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy under contract DE-AC05-76RLO1830. This work also was supported by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which is a major facility sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Cooperative Agreement No. 1852977. A. C. was supported by the NOAA Climate Program Office Climate Variability and Predictability (CVP), and Modeling, Analysis, Predictions and Projections (MAPP) Programs.

Funding

Portions of this study were supported by the Regional and Global Model Analysis (RGMA) component of Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling in the Earth and Environmental Systems Sciences Division of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Biological & Environmental Research (BER) via National Science Foundation IA 1947282, and also by RGMA support of the HiLAT project at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory which is operated by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy under contract DE-AC05-76RLO1830. This work also was supported by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which is a major facility sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Cooperative Agreement No. 1852977. A. C. was supported by the NOAA Climate Program Office Climate Variability and Predictability (CVP), and Modeling, Analysis, Predictions and Projections (MAPP) Programs.

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Meehl, G.A., Teng, H., Capotondi, A. et al. The role of interannual ENSO events in decadal timescale transitions of the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation. Clim Dyn 57, 1933–1951 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-021-05784-y

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Keywords

  • Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation
  • El Nino
  • ENSO
  • Decadal variability
  • Ocean heat content