The importance of the eastward zonal current for generating extreme El Niño

Abstract

Extreme El Niño (e.g., 1983/1983 and 1997/1998) causes severe weather and climate impacts globally, but the associated dynamics is not fully understood. The present study shows that advection of mean temperature by anomalous eastward zonal current plays an important role in producing such extreme events especially during the early part of the developing period. While the climatological direction of the upper oceanic current in the equatorial Pacific is westward, at times the direction reverses. These eastward current events are well distinguished from the normal, westward conditions. The upper-layer zonal current in the equatorial Pacific is basically in geostrophic balance and forced by wind stress. However, in the case of the eastward zonal current events, persistent westerly winds are observed in the Western Pacific, and the current becomes synchronized with the westerly wind stress above. The advection of the mean temperature by the anomalous zonal current in the early developing period always precedes strong El Niño, though it does not significantly contribute to the growth of La Niña, neutral, and moderate El Niño; and is the major contributor of asymmetry in the early developing phase.

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Acknowledgments

This work is supported by Australian climate change programme and Water for a Healthy Country Flagship. The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and internal reviewers, Seon-Tae Kim and Simon Borlace.

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Correspondence to WonMoo Kim.

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Kim, W., Cai, W. The importance of the eastward zonal current for generating extreme El Niño. Clim Dyn 42, 3005–3014 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-013-1792-y

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Keywords

  • ENSO
  • Skewness
  • Asymmetry
  • Equatorial zonal current