The response of equatorial oceans to a relaxation of the trade winds.

S. G.H. Philander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


The following results obtained with a numerical model indicate how the relaxation of the winds affects the later stages of El Nino. A weakening of the westward trade winds causes a zonal redistribution of heat in the equatorial oceans and a warming of the eastern part of the basin. Maximum heating is associated with a permanent weakening of the winds, unless the winds reverse direction and become eastward. Even weak eastward winds for a short period can cause disproportionately large temperature increases (because of nonlinear mechanisms). In the region where the winds relax, the heating is due to convergence of surface waters on the equator, and advection by accelerating eastward surface currents. East of the region where the winds relax, Kelvin waves suppress the thermocline but leave the sea surface temperature unchanged in linear models. In nonlinear models advection by eastward currents in the wake of Kelvin waves can cause a warming, even at the surface. For winds with a realistic spatial and temporal structure the identification of these waves is difficult. (from authors abstract)

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)176-189
Number of pages14
Issue number2 , Feb. 1981
StatePublished - 1981

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography


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