National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 1999

On the termination of El Niño

Harrison, D.E., and G.A. Vecchi

Geophys. Res. Lett., 26(11), 1593–1596, doi: 10.1029/1999GL900316 (1999)

A feature of the end-phase of recent El Niño periods is thermocline shallowing to normal depths, in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, before sea surface temperature (SST) returns to normal. Also characteristic of El Niño periods is a late-in-the-year shift of the El Niño equatorial westerly wind anomalies, from symmetric about the equator to centered south of the equator. We show that the directly forced ocean response to this shift produces thermocline shallowing like that observed. The wind shift may result from the normal seasonal evolution of Pacific waters warmer than 28°C. These shift from being relatively symmetric about the equator in October--November, to concentrated south of the equator in December-January. Thus, the seasonal cycle may be a central part of the mechanism of El Niño termination.

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