Predictability and prediction of persistent cool states of the Tropical Pacific Ocean

Ramesh, Nandini; Cane, Mark A.; Seager, Richard; Lee, Dong Eun

The Tropical Pacific Ocean displays persistently cool sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies that last several years to a decade, with either no El Niño events or a few weak El Niño events. These cause largescale droughts in the extratropics, including major North American droughts such as the 1930s Dust Bowl, and also modulate the global mean surface temperature. Here we show that two models with different levels of complexity— the Zebiak–Cane intermediate 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 in most cases the cool mean state is predictable. We then apply this method to make retrospective forecasts of shifts in the decadal mean state and to forecast the mean state of the Tropical Pacific Ocean for the upcoming decade. Our results suggest that the Pacific will undergo a shift to a warmer mean state after the 2015–2016 El Niño. This could imply the cessation of the drier than normal conditions that have generally afflicted southwest North America since the 1997–1998 El Niño, as well as the twenty-first-century pause in global warming. Implications for our understanding of the origins of such persistent cool states and the possibility of improving predictions of large-scale droughts are discussed.

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Climate Dynamics

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Ocean and Climate Physics
Published Here
June 21, 2017