Time-varying spectral characteristics of ENSO over the Last Millennium

Pandora Hope, Benjamin J. Henley, Joelle Gergis, Josephine Brown, Hua Ye

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14 Citations (Scopus)


The characteristics of El Nino–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) spectra over the Last Millennium are examined to characterise variability over past centuries. Seven published palaeo-ENSO reconstructions and Nino3.4 from six Coupled Model Intercomparison Project-Phase 5 and Paleoclimate Modelling Intercomparison Project-Phase 3 (CMIP5–PMIP3) Last Millennium simulations were analysed. The corresponding Historical and pre-industrial Control CMIP5–PMIP3 simulations were also considered. The post-1850 spectrum of each modelled or reconstructed ENSO series captures aspects of the observed spectrum to varying degrees. We note that no single model or ENSO reconstruction completely reproduces the instrumental spectral characteristics. The spectral power across the 2–3 years (near biennial), 3–8 years (classical ENSO) and 8–25 years (decadal) periodicity bands was calculated in a sliding 50 year window, revealing temporal variability in the spectra. There was strong temporal variability in the spectral power of each periodicity band in observed Nino3.4 and SOI and for all reconstructions and simulations of ENSO. Significant peaks in spectral power such as observed in recent decades also occur in some of the reconstructed palaeo-ENSO (around 1600, the early 1700s and 1900) and modelled series (around the major volcanic eruptions of 1258 and 1452). While the recent increase in spectral power might be in response to enhanced greenhouse gas levels, the increase lies within the range of variability across the suite of ENSO reconstructions and simulations examined here. This study demonstrates that the analysis of a suite of ENSO reconstructions and model simulations can build a broader understanding of the time-varying nature of ENSO spectra, and how the nature of the past spectra of ENSO is to some extent dependant on the climate model or palaeo-ENSO reconstruction chosen.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1705-1727
Number of pages23
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Climate model simulations
  • CMIP5
  • Decadal variability
  • El Niño–Southern Oscillation
  • ENSO
  • Last Millennium
  • Nino3.4
  • PMIP
  • SOI
  • Spectra

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