National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2017

Simulating ENSO SSTA from TAO/Triton winds: The impacts of 20 years of buoy observations in the Pacific waveguide and comparison with reanalysis products

Chiodi, A.M., and D.E. Harrison

J. Climate, 30(3), 1041–1059, doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-15-0865.1 (2017)

The fundamental importance of near-equatorial zonal wind stress in the evolution of the tropical Pacific Ocean’s seasonal cycle and El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events is well known. It has been two decades since the TAO/TRITON buoy array was deployed, in part to provide accurate surface wind observations across the Pacific waveguide. It is timely to revisit the impact of TAO/TRITON winds on our ability to simulate and thereby understand the evolution of sea surface temperature (SST) in this region. This work shows that forced ocean model simulations of SST anomalies (SSTAs) during the periods with a reasonably high buoy data return rate can reproduce the major elements of SSTA variability during ENSO events using a wind stress field computed from TAO/TRITON observations only. This demonstrates that the buoy array usefully fulfills its waveguide-wind-measurement purpose. Comparison of several reanalysis wind fields commonly used in recent ENSO studies with the TAO/TRITON observations reveals substantial biases in the reanalyses that cause substantial errors in the variability and trends of the reanalysis-forced SST simulations. In particular, the negative trend in ERA-Interim is much larger and the NCEP–NCAR Reanalysis-1 and NCEP–DOE Reanalysis-2 variability much less than seen in the TAO/TRITON wind observations. There are also mean biases. Thus, even with the TAO/TRITON observations available for assimilation into these wind products, there remain oceanically important differences. The reanalyses would be much more useful for ENSO and tropical Pacific climate change study if they would more effectively assimilate the TAO/TRITON observations.

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