National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2022

A theory of the spring persistence barrier on ENSO. Part III: The role of tropical Pacific Ocean heat content

Jin, Y., Z. Liu, and M.J. McPhaden

J. Climate, 34(21), 8567–8577, doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-21-0070.1, View online (open access) (2021)

In this paper, we investigate the relationship between upper ocean heat content (OHC) and El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies mainly using the neutral recharge oscillator (NRO) model both analytically and numerically. Previous studies showed that spring OHC, which leads SST by 6–12 months, represents a major source of predictability for ENSO. It is suggested that this seasonality is caused by the seasonally varying growth rate in SST anomalies. Moreover, a shortened ENSO period will lead to a reduced SST predictability from OHC, with the most significant decrease occurring in the latter half of the calendar year. The cross-correlation relationship between OHC and ENSO SST anomalies is further identified in the damped and self-excited version of the recharge oscillator model. Finally, we suggest that the seasonal growth rate of ENSO anomalies is the cause of the seasonality in the effectiveness of OHC as a predictor in ENSO forecasting, particularly as it relates to the boreal spring persistence barrier and associated spring predictability barrier. We also explain the shorter lead time between spring OHC and ENSO SST anomalies after the turn of the twenty-first century in terms of the apparent higher frequency of the ENSO period.

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