Persistent Cold States of the Tropical Pacific Ocean in an Intermediate Coupled Model and a General Circulation Model

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Nandini Ramesh, Columbia University of New York, Palisades, NY, United States, Mark A Cane, Lamont-Doherty Earth Obs, Palisades, NY, United States and Richard Seager, Lamont Doherty Earth Obs, Palisades, NY, United States
The tropical Pacific Ocean has persistently cool sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies that last several years to a decade, with either no El Niño events or very few weak El Niño events. These have been shown to cause large-scale droughts in the extratropics[i], including the major North American droughts such as the 1930s Dust Bowl, and may also be responsible for modulating the global mean surface temperature[ii]. Here we show that two models with different levels of complexity – the Zebiak-Cane model and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory Coupled Model version 2.1 – are able to produce such periods in a realistic manner. We then test the predictability of these periods in the Zebiak-Cane model using an ensemble of experiments with perturbed initial states. Our results show that the cool mean state is modestly predictable, while the lack of El Niño events during these cool periods is not. These results have implications for our understanding of the origins of such persistent cool states and the possibility of improving predictions of large-scale droughts.

Further, we apply this method of using an ensemble of model simulations with perturbed initial states to make retrospective forecasts and to forecast the mean state of the tropical Pacific Ocean for the upcoming decade. Our results suggest, albeit with low confidence, that the current cool mean state will persist. This could imply the continuation of the drier than normal conditions that have, in general, afflicted southwest North America since the 1997/98 El Niño, as well as the current pause in global warming.


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