National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2009

Eastern Equatorial Pacific forcing of ENSO sea surface temperature anomalies

Zhang, X., and M.J. McPhaden

J. Climate, 21(22), 6070–6079, doi: 10.1175/2008JCLI2422.1 (2008)

Previous studies have described the impacts of wind stress variations in the eastern Pacific on sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies associated with the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon. However, these studies have usually focused on individual El Niño events and typically have not considered impacts on La Niña—the cold phase of the ENSO cycle. This paper examines effects of wind stress and heat flux forcing on interannual SST variations in the eastern equatorial Pacific from sensitivity tests using an ocean general circulation model over the period 1980–2002. Results indicate that in the Niño-3 region (5°N–5°S, 90°–150°W) a zonal wind stress anomaly of 0.01 N m−2 leads to about 1°C SST anomaly and that air–sea heat fluxes tend to damp interannual SST anomalies generated by other physical processes at a rate of about 40 W m−2 (°C)−1. These results systematically quantify expectations from previous event specific numerical model studies that local forcing in the eastern Pacific can significantly affect the evolution of both warm and cold phases of the ENSO cycle. The results are also consistent with a strictly empirical analysis that indicates that a wind stress anomaly of 0.01 N m−2 leads to ∼1°C SST anomaly in the Niño-3 region.

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