Simulation of the Response of the North Pacific Ocean to the Anomalous Atmospheric Circulation Associated with El Niño.

Michael A. Alexander, Dept. of Meteorology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin


During El Niño events when positive sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies form in the equatorial Pacific, SST anomalies also tend to develop in the North Pacific. This study attempts to model and explain the large-scale features of the observed SST anomaly field in the North Pacific during the fall and winter of the El Niño year. The experiment design consists of a mixed layer ocean model of the North Pacific which is forced by atmospheric surface fields from two sets of Community Climate Model (CCM) integrations: the El Niño set with prescribed positive SST anomalies in the tropical Pacific; and the control set which is obtained from an extended CCM integration with prescribed climatological SSTs. The response of the midlatitude ocean to atmospheric surface fields associated with El Niño are obtained by compositing each set of model integrations (El Niño and Control) and then taking the difference between the composites.

The ocean model is able to reproduce the general features of the observed midlatitude SST anomaly pattern: warm water in the northeast Pacific and an elliptically shaped cold pool in the central Pacific. In these regions, a large fraction of the temperature anomalies are significant at the 95% level as indicated by a two tailed t-test. The ocean temperature anomalies simulated by the model are primarily caused by changes in the sensible and latent heat flux and to a lesser extent the longwave radiation flux. Entrainment of cold water from below the mixed layer also influences ocean temperatures. However, the entrainment anomaly pattern has a complex spatial structure which does not always coincide with the simulated mixed layer temperature anomalies.