National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2023

Emergence of changing Central-Pacific and Eastern-Pacific El Niño-Southern Oscillation in a warming climate

Geng, T., W. Cai, A. Santoso, G. Wang, Z. Jing, B. Gan, Y. Yang, S. Li, S. Wang, Z. Chen, and M.J. McPhaden

Nature Commun., 13, 6616, doi: 10.1038/s41467-022-33930-5, View open access article at Nature (external link) (2022)

El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) features strong warm events in the eastern equatorial Pacific (EP), or mild warm and strong cold events in the central Pacific (CP), with distinct impacts on global climates. Under transient greenhouse warming, models project increased sea surface temperature (SST) variability of both ENSO regimes, but the timing of emergence out of internal variability remains unknown for either regime. Here we find increased EP-ENSO SST variability emerging by around 2030 ± 6, more than a decade earlier than that of CP-ENSO, and approximately four decades earlier than that previously suggested without separating the two regimes. The earlier EP-ENSO emergence results from a stronger increase in EP-ENSO rainfall response, which boosts the signal of increased SST variability, and is enhanced by ENSO non-linear atmospheric feedback. Thus, increased ENSO SST variability under greenhouse warming is likely to emerge first in the eastern than central Pacific, and decades earlier than previously anticipated.

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