Analysis of the southward wind shift of ENSO in CMIP5 models

Esteban Abellán, Shayne McGregor, Matthew H. England

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11 Citations (Scopus)


During the mature phase of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events there is a southward shift of anomalous zonal winds (SWS), which has been suggested to play a role in the seasonal phase locking of ENSO. Motivated by the fact that coupled climate models tend to underestimate this feature, this study examines the representation of the SWS in phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5). It is found that most models successfully reproduce the observed SWS, although the magnitude of the zonal wind stress anomaly is underestimated. Several significant differences between the models with and without the SWS are identified including biases in the magnitude and spatial distribution of precipitation and sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies during ENSO. Multiple-linear regression analysis suggests that the climatological meridional SST gradient as well as anomalous ENSO-driven convective activity over the northwest Pacific both might play a role in controlling the SWS. While the models that capture the SWS also simulate many more strong El Niño and La Niña events peaking at the correct time of year, the overall seasonal synchronization is still underestimated in these models. This is attributed to underestimated changes in warm water volume (WWV) during moderate El Niño events so that these events display relatively poor seasonal synchronization. Thus, while the SWS is an important metric, it is ultimately the magnitude and zonal extent of the wind changes that accompany this SWS that drive the changes in WWV and prime the system for termination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2415-2435
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Climate models
  • ENSO
  • Model errors
  • Seasonal cycle
  • Wind stress

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