Response of the equatorial pacific seasonal cycle to orbital forcing

Michael P. Erb, Anthony J. Broccoli, Neal T. Graham, Amy C. Clement, Andrew T. Wittenberg, Gabriel Andres Vecchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The response of the equatorial Pacific Ocean's seasonal cycle to orbital forcing is explored using idealized simulations with a coupled atmosphere-ocean GCM in which eccentricity, obliquity, and the longitude of perihelion are altered while other boundary conditions are maintained at preindustrial levels. The importance of ocean dynamics in the climate response is investigated using additional simulations with a slab ocean version of the model. Precession is found to substantially influence the equatorial Pacific seasonal cycle through both thermodynamic and dynamic mechanisms, while changes in obliquity have only a small effect. In the precession experiments, western equatorial Pacific SSTs respond in a direct thermodynamic manner to changes in insolation, while the eastern equatorial Pacific is first affected by the propagation of thermocline temperature anomalies from the west. These thermocline signals result from zonal wind anomalies associated with changes in the strength of subtropical anticyclones and shifts in the regions of convection in the western equatorial Pacific. The redistribution of heat from these thermocline signals, aided by the direct thermodynamic effect of insolation anomalies, results in large changes to the strength and timing of the eastern equatorial Pacific seasonal cycle. A comparison of 10 CMIP5 mid-Holocene experiments, in which the primary forcing is due to precession, shows that this response is relatively robust across models. Because equatorial Pacific SST anomalies have local climate impacts as well as nonlocal impacts through teleconnections, these results may be important to understanding paleoclimate variations both inside and outside of the tropical Pacific.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9258-9276
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number23
StatePublished - 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • General circulation models
  • Geographic location/entity
  • Heat budgets/fluxes
  • Models and modeling
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Paleoclimate
  • Physical Meteorology and Climatology
  • Radiative forcing
  • Seasonal cycle
  • Variability


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