Factors that affect the amplitude of El Nino in global coupled climate models

G. A. Meehl, P. R. Gent, J. M. Arblaster, B. L. Otto-Bliesner, E. C. Brady, A. Craig

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Historically, El Nino-like events simulated in global coupled climate models have had reduced amplitude compared to observations. Here, El Nino-like phenomena are compared in ten sensitivity experiments using two recent global coupled models. These models have various combinations of horizontal and vertical ocean resolution, ocean physics, and atmospheric model resolution. It is demonstrated that the lower the value of the ocean background vertical diffusivity, the greater the amplitude of El Nino variability which is related primarily to a sharper equatorial thermocline. Among models with low background vertical diffusivity, stronger equatorial zonal wind stress is associated with relatively higher amplitude El Nino variability along with more realistic east-west sea surface temperature (SST) gradient along the equator. The SST seasonal cycle in the eastern tropical Pacific has too much of a semiannual component with a double intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) in all experiments, and thus does not affect, nor it is affected by, the amplitude of El Nino variability. Systematic errors affecting the spatial variability of El Nino in the experiments are characterized by the eastern equatorial Pacific cold tongue regime extending too far westward into the warm pool. The time scales of interannual variability (as represented by time series of Nino3 SSTs) show significant power in the 3-4 year ENSO band and 2-2.5 year tropospheric biennial oscillation (TBO) band in the model experiments. The TBO periods in the models agree well with the observations, while the ENSO periods are near the short end of the range of 3-6 years observed during the period 1950-94. The close association between interannual variability of equatorial eastern Pacific SSTs and large-scale SST patterns is represented by significant correlations between Nino3 time series and the PC time series of the first EOFs of near-global SSTs in the models and observations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)515-526
Number of pages12
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2001
Externally publishedYes

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