Tropical Pacific 1976-77 climate shift in a linear, wind-driven model

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Journal of Physical Oceanography
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A number of studies have attempted to explain the cause of decadal variability in the tropical Pacific and explore its possible link to decadal variability in the midlatitude Pacific. To investigate some of the current theories of Pacific decadal variability, a linear, wind-driven model, designed to simulate only baroclinic wave dynamics, was forced with wind stress anomalies in the Pacific Ocean basin from 1945 through 1992. An analysis technique designed to isolate the decadal/interdecadal scale variability from interannual ENSO variability was performed on the model's thermocline depth anomaly (TDA).It was found that the temporal and spatial patterns of the observed tropical decadal sea surface temperatures are consistent with our modeled TDA. Furthermore, restricting the wind forcing to within 58 of the equator does not substantially alter the decadal/interdecadal variability of the equatorial region. The authors conclude that the observed decadal variability in the low-latitude Pacific is primarily a linear dynamical response to tropical wind forcing and does not directly require an oceanic link to the midlatitudes. The question of how tropical wind anomalies are generated is not addressed.In addition, it is shown that in model scenarios where the wind forcing is restricted to the western equatorial Pacific, the 1976-77 climate shift is still clearly visible as a dominant feature of tropical decadal variability. The temporal decadal signal of the model-generated TDA is more pronounced during the eastern equatorial upwelling season (July-September) than in the boreal winter. This is consistent with the observed seasonal bias in tracer and SST data from the eastern equatorial Pacific.


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