Walker Circulation, El Niño and La Niña

Thursday, 18 December 2014
David Halpern, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, United States
Ocean surface wind vector is likely the critical variable to predict onset, maintenance and dissipation of El Niño and La Niña. Analyses of SeaWinds and ASCAT 10-m height (called “surface”) vector winds in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans from 1°S-1°N during March 2000 – June 2011 revealed the longitudinal distribution of the surface zonal wind component associated with the Walker Circulation. In the Pacific Ocean east of 140°E and west of 85°W, the mean wind direction was westward towards the maritime continent with maximum mean zonal wind speed (– 6.5 m s-1) at 150°W; east of 85°W the mean direction was toward the convection zone over South America. Four El Niños and five La Niñas occurred from March 2000 – June 2011. In the Pacific from 150°E to 160°W, the average El Niño (La Niña) westward wind speed was 2 m s-1 (1 m s-1) smaller (larger) than normal. In the west Pacific, the variation in westward wind speeds in El Niño and La Niña conditions relative to normal conditions would be expected to substantially uplift the thermocline during El Niño compared to La Niña, which is consistent with conventional wisdom. In the east Pacific from 130°W – 100°W, average El Niño westward wind speeds were less than normal and La Niña conditions by 0.5 m s-1 and 1 m s-1, respectively. The “central” Pacific nature of the El Niños may have influenced the smaller difference between El Niño and La Niña westward wind speeds in the east Pacific compared to the west Pacific. Analyses of longitudinal distributions of thermocline depths will be discussed. Surface zonal wind speeds in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans showed no evidence of El Niño and La Niña; surface meridional winds showed an apparent response in the Indian and Pacific Oceans but not in the Atlantic Ocean. At 700-m height, the MISR zonal wind component in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans had similar features as those at the surface, except in the east Pacific where the westward wind speeds were identical during El Niño, La Niña and normal conditions. In the east Pacific, the shear between 10- and 700-m heights increased (decreased) during La Niña (El Niño).