Attribution of atmospheric variations in the 1997-2003 period to SST anomalies in the pacific and Indian ocean basins

Ngar Cheung Lau, Ants Leetmaa, Mary Jo Nath

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The individual impacts of sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the deep tropical eastern-central Pacific (DTEP) and Indo-western-central Pacific (IWP) on the evolution of the observed global atmospheric circulation during the 1997-2003 period have been investigated using a new general circulation model. Ensemble integrations were conducted with monthly varying SST conditions being prescribed separately in the DTEP sector, the IWP sector, and throughout the World Ocean. During the 1998-2002 subperiod, when prolonged La Niña conditions occurred in DTEP and the SST in IWP was above normal, the simulated midlatitude atmospheric responses to SST forcing in the DTEP and IWP sectors reinforced each other. The anomalous geopotential height ridges at 200 mb in the extratropics of both hemispheres exhibited a distinct zonal symmetry. This circulation change was accompanied by extensive dry and warm anomalies in many regions, including North America. During the 1997-98 and 2002-03 El Niño events, the SST conditions in both DTEP and IWP were above normal, and considerable cancellations were simulated between the midlatitude responses to the oceanic forcing from these two sectors. The above findings are contrasted with those for the 1953-58 and 1972-77 periods, which were characterized by analogous SST developments in DTEP, but by cold conditions in IWP. It is concluded that a warm anomaly in IWP and a cold anomaly in DTEP constitute the optimal SST configuration for generating zonally elongated ridges in the midlatitudes. Local diagnoses indicate that the imposed SST anomaly alters the strength of the zonal flow in certain longitudinal sectors, which influences the behavior of synoptic-scale transient eddies farther downstream. The modified eddy momentum transports in the regions of eddy activity in turn feed back on the local mean flow, thus contributing to its zonal elongation, These results are consistent with the inferences drawn from zonal mean analyses, which accentuate the role of the eddy-induced circulation on the meridional plane.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3607-3628
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 1 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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