Interdecadal sea surface temperature variability in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Part II: The role of equatorial/off-equatorial wind stresses in a hybrid coupled model

Shayne McGregor, Neil J. Holbrook

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Many modeling studies have been carried out to investigate the role of oceanic Rossby waves linking the off-equatorial and equatorial Pacific Ocean. Although the equatorial ocean response to off-equatorial wind stress forcing alone tends to be relatively small, it is clear that off-equatorial oceanic Rossby waves affect equatorial Pacific Ocean variability on interannual through to interdecadal time scales. In the present study, a hybrid coupled model (HCM) of the equatorial Pacific (between 12.5°S and 12.5°N) was developed and is used to estimate the magnitude of equatorial region variability arising from off-equatorial (poleward of 12.5° latitude) wind stress forcing. The HCM utilizes a reduced-gravity ocean shallow-water model and a statistical atmosphere derived from monthly output from a 100-yr Australian Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre (now the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research) coupled general circulation model integration. The equatorial region wind stress forcing is found to dominate both the interannual and interdecadal SST variability. The equatorial response to off-equatorial wind stress forcing alone is insufficient to initiate an atmospheric feedback that significantly amplifies the original equatorial region variability. Consequently, the predictability of equatorial region SST anomalies (SSTAs) could be limited to ∼1 yr (the maximurn time it takes an oceanic Rossby wave to cross the Pacific Ocean basin in the equatorial region). However, the results also suggest that the addition of off-equatorial wind stress forcing, to the HCM leads to variations in equatorial Pacific background SSTA of up to almost one standard deviation. This off-equatorially forced portion of the equatorial SSTA could prove critical for thresholds of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) because they can constructively interfere with equatorially forced SSTA of the same sign to produce significant equatorial region ENSO anomalies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4242-4256
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2008
Externally publishedYes

Cite this