The seasonally changing cloud feedbacks contribution to the ENSO seasonal phase-locking

Dietmar Dommenget, Yanshan Yu

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19 Citations (Scopus)


ENSO variability has a seasonal phase-locking, with SST anomalies on average decreasing during the beginning of the year and SST anomalies increasing during the second half of the year. As a result of this, the ENSO SST variability is smallest in April and the so call ‘spring barrier’ exists in the predictability of ENSO. In this study we analysis how the seasonal phase-locking of surface short wave radiation associated with cloud cover feedbacks contribute to this phenomenon. We base our analysis on observations and simplified climate model simulations. At the beginning of the year, the warmer mean SST in the eastern equatorial Pacific leads to deeper clouds whose anomalous variability are positively correlated with the underlying SST anomalies. These observations highlight a strong negative surface short wave radiation feedback at the beginning of the year in the eastern Pacific (NINO3 region). This supports the observed seasonal phase-locking of ENSO SST variability. This relation also exists in model simulations of the linear recharge oscillator and in the slab ocean model coupled to a fully complex atmospheric GCM. The Slab ocean simulation has seasonal phase-locking similar to observed mostly caused by similar seasonal changing cloud feedbacks as observed. In the linear recharge oscillator simulations seasonal phase-locking is also similar to observed, but is not just related to seasonal changing cloud feedbacks, but is also related to changes in the sensitivity of the zonal wind stress and to a lesser extent to seasonally change sensitivities to the thermocline depth. In summary this study has shown that the seasonal phase-locking, as observed and simulated, is linked to seasonally changing cloud feedbacks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3661-3672
Number of pages12
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016

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