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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Subtropics-Related Interannual Sea Surface Temperature Variability in the Central Equatorial Pacific

  • Author(s): Yu, Jin-Yi
  • Kao, Hsun-Ying
  • Lee, Tong
  • et al.

Interannual sea surface temperature (SST) variability in the central equatorial Pacific consists of a component related to eastern Pacific SST variations (called Type-1 SST variability) and a component not related to them (called Type-2 SST variability). Lead–lagged regression and ocean surface-layer temperature balance analyses were performed to contrast their control mechanisms. Type-1 variability is part of the canonical, which is characterized by SST anomalies extending from the South American coast to the central Pacific, is coupled with the Southern Oscillation, and is associated with basinwide subsurface ocean variations. This type of variability is dominated by a major 4–5-yr periodicity and a minor biennial (2–2.5 yr) periodicity. In contrast, Type-2 variability is dominated by a biennial periodicity, is associated with local air–sea interactions, and lacks a basinwide anomaly structure. In addition, Type-2 SST variability exhibits a strong connection to the subtropics of both hemispheres, particularly the Northern Hemisphere. Type-2 SST anomalies appear first in the northeastern subtropical Pacific and later spread toward the central equatorial Pacific, being generated in both regions by anomalous surface heat flux forcing associated with wind anomalies. The SST anomalies undergo rapid intensification in the central equatorial Pacific through ocean advection processes, and eventually decay as a result of surface heat flux damping and zonal advection. The southward spreading of trade wind anomalies within the northeastern subtropics-to-central tropics pathway of Type-2 variability is associated with intensity variations of the subtropical high. Type-2 variability is found to become stronger after 1990, associated with a concurrent increase in the subtropical variability. It is concluded that Type-2 interannual variability represents a subtropical-excited phenomenon that is different from the conventional ENSO Type-1 variability.

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