Wind spatial structure triggers enso's oceanic warm water volume changes

S. Neske, S. Mcgregor, M. Zeller, D. Dommenget

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This study demonstrates that the generalization that strong anomalous equatorial Pacific westerly (easterly) winds during El Niño (La Niña) events display strong adjusted warm water volume (WWV) discharges (recharges) is often incorrect. Using ocean model simulations, we categorize the oceanic adjusted responses to strong anomalous equatorial winds into two categories: (i) transitioning (consistent with the above generalization) and (ii) neutral adjusted responses (with negligible WWV recharge and discharge). During the 1980-2016 period only 47% of strong anomalous equatorial winds are followed by transitioning adjusted responses, while the remaining are followed by neutral adjusted responses. Moreover, 55% (only 30%) of the strongest winds lead to transitioning adjusted responses during the pre-2000 (post-2000) period in agreement with the previously reported post-2000 decline of WWV lead time to El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events. The prominent neutral adjusted WWV response is shown to be largely excited by anomalous wind stress forcing with a weaker curl (on average consistent with a higher ratio of off-equatorial to equatorial wind events) and weaker Rossby wave projection than the transitioning adjusted response. We also identify a prominent ENSO phase asymmetry where strong anomalous equatorial westerly winds (i.e., El Niño events) are roughly 1.6 times more likely to strongly dischargeWWVthan strong anomalous equatorial easterly winds (i.e., La Niña events) are to strongly rechargeWWV. This ENSO phase asymmetry may be added to the list of mechanisms proposed to explain why El Niño events have a stronger tendency to be followed by La Niña events than vice versa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1985-1999
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2021


  • Asymmetry
  • ENSO
  • Kelvin waves
  • Ocean dynamics
  • Rossby waves
  • Warm water volume
  • Wind Stress curl

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