The role of low-frequency variation in the manifestation of warming trend and ENSO amplitude

Abstract

Despite the increase in greenhouse gas concentration, the sea surface temperature (SST) over the tropical eastern Pacific during the period of 1999–2014 exhibits less warming trend compared to the earlier decades. It has been noted that this warming hiatus is accompanied by a negative phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), which represents low-frequency variability over the Pacific. On the other hand, the 2015/2016 El Niño is among the strongest comparable to the 1997/1998 event, which coincides with the recently altered PDO phase from negative to positive. These observational evidences have generated substantial interest in the role of low-frequency variations in modulating El Niño-Southern Oscillation amplitude as well as manifestation of warming signal in the tropical Pacific. Therefore, it is necessary to appropriately separate low-frequency variability and global warming signal from SST records. Here, we present three primary modes of global SST that include secular warming trend, low-frequency variability, and biennial oscillation. Based on the independent behavior of these three modes, global warming is clearly continuing but its manifestation is enhanced (depressed) when the low-frequency variation is in the positive (negative) phase. Further, possibility of strong El Niño increases under the positive phase of the low-frequency mode, which amplifies warming over the tropical eastern Pacific. Indeed, the strong 2015/2016 El Niño is largely attributed to the positive phase of the low-frequency mode. In order to examine the climate models’ ability to simulate the three SST modes as obtained in the observational record, the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 (CMIP5) datasets are also analyzed. The spatial and temporal characteristics of the three modes have been replicated closely by the selected CMIP5 models forced by the historical condition, which provides an analogy of the interplay of three modes in the observed tropical Pacific SST.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the Korea Meteorological Administration Research and Development Program under Grant KMIPA 2015–2112. SRY and WK are supported by APEC Climate Center. KYK acknowledges a support from Research and Development for KMA Weather, Climate, and Earth system Services (NIMS-2016-3100) of National Institute of Meteorological Sciences/Korea Meteorological Administration.

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Correspondence to Sang-Wook Yeh.

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Yeo, SR., Yeh, SW., Kim, KY. et al. The role of low-frequency variation in the manifestation of warming trend and ENSO amplitude. Clim Dyn 49, 1197–1213 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-016-3376-0

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Keywords

  • Pacific Decadal Oscillation
  • Eastern Pacific
  • Pacific Decadal Oscillation Index
  • Principal Component Time Series
  • CSEOF Mode