Mid-Pliocene El Niño/Southern Oscillation suppressed by Pacific intertropical convergence zone shift

Christian.Stepanek [ at ] awi.de


The El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the dominant driver of year-to-year climate variability in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, impacts climate pattern across the globe. However, the response of the ENSO system to past and potential future temperature increases is not fully understood. Here we investigate ENSO variability in the warmer climate of the mid-Pliocene (~3.0–3.3 Ma), when surface temperatures were ~2–3 °C above modern values, in a large ensemble of climate models—the Pliocene Model Intercomparison Project. We show that the ensemble consistently suggests a weakening of ENSO variability, with a mean reduction of 25% (±16%). We further show that shifts in the equatorial Pacific mean state cannot fully explain these changes. Instead, ENSO was suppressed by a series of off-equatorial processes triggered by a northward displacement of the Pacific intertropical convergence zone: weakened convective feedback and intensified Southern Hemisphere circulation, which inhibit various processes that initiate ENSO. The connection between the climatological intertropical convergence zone position and ENSO we find in the past is expected to operate in our warming world with important ramifications for ENSO variability.

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Primary Division
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Helmholtz Cross Cutting Activity (2021-2027)
Research Networks
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Eprint ID
DOI 10.1038/s41561-022-00999-y

Cite as
Pontes, G. M. , Taschetto, A. S. , Sen Gupta, A. , Santoso, A. , Wainer, I. , Haywood, A. M. , Chan, W. L. , Abe-Ouchi, A. , Stepanek, C. , Lohmann, G. , Hunter, S. J. , Tindall, J. C. , Chandler, M. A. , Sohl, L. E. , Peltier, W. R. , Chandan, D. , Kamae, Y. , Nisancioglu, K. H. , Zhang, Z. , Contoux, C. , Tan, N. , Zhang, Q. , Otto-Bliesner, B. L. , Brady, E. C. , Feng, R. , von der Heydt, A. S. , Baatsen, M. L. J. and Oldeman, A. M. (2022): Mid-Pliocene El Niño/Southern Oscillation suppressed by Pacific intertropical convergence zone shift , Nature Geoscience . doi: 10.1038/s41561-022-00999-y

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