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Mechanisms of SST Change in the Equatorial Waveguide during the 1982-83 ENSO

D.E. Harrison

Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Seattle, Washington

B.S. Giese

Department of Oceanography, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

E.S. Sarachik

Department of Atmospheric Science, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

Journal of Climate, 3(2), 173-188 (1990)
Copyright ©1990 American Meteorological Society. Further electronic distribution is not allowed.


Four different datasets of monthly mean near-equatorial Pacific sea surface temperature for 1982–83 are compared, and the space-time regions for which there was consensus that cooling or warming took place, are determined. There was consensus that warming took place east of the date line, averaged over the period July–December 1982, and that the warming progressed eastward from the central Pacific. There was also consensus that weak cooling took place in April 1983, and that substantial cooling occurred in June–July 1983, generally over the central and eastern Pacific. However, the analyses tend to agree on the sign of SST change only in periods of cooling or warming in excess of 1°C/month; quantitative agreement at the level of 0.5°C/month or better is almost never found.

SST changes in five ocean-circulation model hindcasts of the 1982–83 period (differing only in that each used a different analyzed monthly mean surface wind stress field to drive the ocean), are compared with the observations and with each other. There is agreement that net warming occurred in the July–December 1982 period and cooling in mid-1983. The heat budgets of these experiments indicate that the major model central Pacific warmings occurred primarily from anomalous eastward surface advection of warm water. Further, east zonal advection remains significant, but a diminished cooling tendency from meridional advection can also be important; different hindcasts differ on the relative importance of these terms. Surface heat flux changes do not contribute to the warmings. The reduced cooling tendency from meridional advection is consistent with diminished surface Ekman divergence, suggesting that southward transport of warm north equatorial counter current water was not a major factor in the model warmings. The hindcasts do not agree on the relative importance of local or remote forcing of the eastward surface currents; while there is clear evidence of remote forcing in some hindcasts in particular regions, local forcing is also often significant. The main 1983 midocean cooling began because of increased vertical advection of cool water; but once cooling began horizontal advection often contributed. Further cast, where the easterlies generally return later than they do in midocean, upwelling and horizontal advection all can be important. Again no model consensus exists concerning the details of SST evolution.

Because the observations do not agree on the sign of SST change during much of the 1982–83 period, improved SST data is needed in order to document the behavior of the ocean through future ENSO periods. Better forcing data will be needed to carry out improved ocean-model validation studies, and to explore the mechanisms likely responsible for SST change through entire ENSO cycles.

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