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  • Capotondi, A., A. T. Wittenberg, and S. Masina, 2006: Spatial and temporal structure of tropical Pacific interannual variability in 20th century coupled simulations. Ocean Modeling. In press.

Tropical Pacific interannual variability is examined in nine state-of-the-art coupled climate models, and compared with observations and ocean analyses data sets, the primary focus being on the spatial structure and spectral characteristics of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The spatial patterns of interannual sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies from the coupled models are characterized by maximum variations displaced from the coast of South America, and generally extending too far west with respect to observations. Thermocline variability is characterized by dominant modes that are qualitatevely similar in all the models, and consistent with the "recharge oscillator" paradigm for ENSO. The meridional scale of the thermocline depth anomalies is generally narrower than observed, a result that can be related to the pattern of zonal wind stress perturbations in the central-western equatorial Pacific. The wind stress response to the eastern equatorial Pacific SST anomalies in the models is narrower and displaced further west than observed. The meridional scale of the wind stress can affect the amount of warm water involved in the recharge/discharge of the equatorial thermocline, while the longitudinal location of the wind stress anomalies can influence the advection of the mean zonal temperature gradient by the anomalous zonal currents, a process that may favor the growth and longer duration of ENSO events when the wind stress perturbations are displaced eastwards. Thus, both discrepancies of the wind stress anomaly patterns in the coupled models with respect to observations (narrow meridional extent, and westward displacement along the equator) may be responsible for the ENSO timescale being shorter in the models than in observations. The examination of the leading advective processes in the SST tendency equation indicates that vertical advection of temperature anomalies tends to favor ENSO growth in all the CGCMs, but at a smaller rate than in observations. In some models it can also promote a phase transition. Longer periods tend to be associated with thermocline and advective feedbacks that are in phase with the SST anomalies, while advective tendencies that lead the SST anomalies by a quarter cycle favor ENSO transitions, thus leading to a shorter period.

Last Updated: 2006-03-14

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