National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2020

Continuation of tropical Pacific Ocean temperature trend may weaken extreme El Niño and its linkage to the Southern Annular Mode

Lim, E.-P., H.H. Hendon, P. Hope, C. Chung, F. Delage, and M.J. McPhaden

Sci. Rep., 9, 17044, doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-53371-3, View online (2019)

Observational records show that occurrences of the negative polarity of the Southern Annular Mode (low SAM) is significantly linked to El Niño during austral spring and summer, potentially providing long-lead predictability of the SAM and its associated surface climate conditions. In this study, we explore how this linkage may change under a scenario of a continuation of the ocean temperature trends that have been observed over the past 60 years, which are plausibly forced by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. We generated coupled model seasonal forecasts for three recent extreme El Niño events by initialising the forecasts with observed ocean anomalies of 1 September 1982, 1997 and 2015 added into (1) the current ocean mean state and into (2) the ocean mean state updated to include double the recent ocean temperature trends. We show that the strength of extreme El Niño is reduced with the warmer ocean mean state as a result of reduced thermocline feedback and weakened rainfall-wind-sea surface temperature coupling over the tropical eastern Pacific. The El Niño-low SAM relationship also weakens, implying the possibility of reduced long-lead predictability of the SAM and associated surface climate impacts in the future.

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