National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2017

Symmetry of the Atlantic Niño mode

Lübbecke, J.F., and M.J. McPhaden

Geophys. Res. Lett., 44(2), 965–973, doi: 10.1002/2016GL071829 (2017)

El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in the Pacific is asymmetric for warm and cold events with respect to amplitude, spatial patterns, and temporal evolution. Here the symmetry of the Atlantic Niño mode, which many previous studies have argued is governed by atmosphere-ocean dynamics similar to those of ENSO, is investigated using two different ocean reanalysis products. Calculation of Bjerknes feedback terms for the Pacific reveals a pronounced asymmetry between warm and cold events, though unlike most previous studies, the largest asymmetry is found in the relationship between eastern Pacific thermocline depth and sea surface temperature anomalies. For the Atlantic, cold events are effectively mirror images of warm events with Bjerknes feedbacks of similar strength. The analysis supports not only the conclusion that Atlantic Niños are more symmetric than ENSO but also the hypothesis itself that the Bjerknes feedback is operative in the Atlantic given the strength of the relationship between the key variables involved.

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