National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2003

On the termination of the 2002–03 El Niño event

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

Geophys. Res. Lett., 30(18), 1964, doi: 10.1029/2003GL017564 (2003)

Every new El Niño presents an opportunity to revisit our understanding of El Niño characteristics and processes. We examine the extent to which the termination of the 2002-03 El Niño followed the scenario of Harrison and Vecchi [1999], in which (1) there is a late-year southward shift of near-equatorial westerly wind anomalies, and (2) subsequent eastern equatorial Pacific cold tongue thermocline shallowing is driven by the wind shift. There was a prominent late-year southward shift in the low-frequency west Pacific zonal wind anomalies in 2002-03. Ocean general circulation model experiments establish the shift as the primary cause of cold tongue thermocline shallowing. Reflected equatorial waves and local wind anomaly changes are much less important. Successful theories and models of El Niño should address the processes that cause the year end southward wind shift. Interactions between anomalous El Niño conditions and the seasonal cycle of solar insolation may provide such a process.

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