Change in strong Eastern Pacific El Niño events dynamics in the warming climate

  • Aude CarréricEmail author
  • Boris DewitteEmail author
  • Wenju Cai
  • Antonietta Capotondi
  • Ken Takahashi
  • Sang-Wook Yeh
  • Guojian Wang
  • Virginie Guémas


While there is evidence that ENSO activity will increase in association with the increased vertical stratification due to global warming, the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Here we investigate this issue using the simulations of the NCAR Community Earth System Model Large Ensemble (CESM-LE) Project focusing on strong El Niño events of the Eastern Pacific (EP) that can be associated to flooding in Northern and Central Peru. It is shown that, in the warmer climate, the duration of strong EP El Niño events peaking in boreal winter is extended by two months, which results in significantly more events peaking in February–March–April (FMA), the season when the climatological Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone is at its southernmost location. This larger persistence of strong EP events is interpreted as resulting from both a stronger recharge process and a more effective thermocline feedback in the eastern equatorial Pacific due to increased mean vertical stratification. A heat budget analysis reveals in particular that the reduction in seasonal upwelling rate is compensated by the increase in anomalous vertical temperature gradient within the surface layer, yielding an overall increase in the effectiveness of the thermocline feedback. In CESM-LE, the appearance of strong EP El Niño events peaking in FMA accounts for one-quarter of the increase in frequency of occurrence of ENSO-induced extreme precipitation events, while one-third results from weak-to-moderate El Niño events that triggers extreme precipitation events because of the warmer mean SST becoming closer to the convective threshold. In CESM-LE, both the increase in mean EP SST and the change in ENSO processes thus contribute to the increase in extreme precipitation events in the warmer climate.


CESM-LE Extreme El Niño event Climate change Vertical stratification 



We acknowledge the CESM Large Ensemble Community Project for providing model outputs, which are available on The CESM project is supported by the National Science Foundation and the Office of Science (BER) of the US Department of Energy. B. Dewitte acknowledges supports from FONDECYT (projects 1171861 and 1190276) and the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR, project ARISE). A. Capotondi was supported by the NASA Physical Oceanography Program (Award NNX15AG46G). S.-W. Yeh was supported by National Research Foundation Grant NRF-2018R1A5A1024958.

Supplementary material

382_2019_5036_MOESM1_ESM.docx (320 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 321 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LEGOS, Université de Toulouse, CNES, CNRS, IRD, UPSToulouseFrance
  2. 2.Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC)BarcelonaSpain
  3. 3.Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Áridas (CEAZA)La SerenaChile
  4. 4.Facultad de Ciencias del MarUniversidad Católica del NorteCoquimboChile
  5. 5.Millennium Nucleus Ecology and Sustainable Management of Oceanic Island (ESMOI)CoquimboChile
  6. 6.Key Laboratory of Physical Oceanography, Institute for Advanced Ocean StudiesOcean University of China and Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and TechnologyQingdaoChina
  7. 7.Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research (CSHOR), CSIRO Oceans and AtmosphereHobartAustralia
  8. 8.Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental ScienceUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  9. 9.Physical Sciences DivisionNOAA Earth System Research LaboratoryBoulderUSA
  10. 10.Servicio Nacional de Meteorología e Hidrología del Perú—SENAMHILimaPeru
  11. 11.Department of Marine Sciences and Convergent TechnologyHanyang UniversityAnsanSouth Korea
  12. 12.CNRM UMR 3589, Météo-France, CNRSToulouseFrance

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