The effect of the Galápagos Islands on ENSO in forced ocean and hybrid coupled models

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Journal of Physical Oceanography
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An ocean general circulation model (OGCM) of the tropical Pacific Ocean is used to examine the effects of the Galápagos Islands on the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). First, a series of experiments are conducted using the OGCM in a forced context, whereby an idealized El Niño event may be examined in cases with and without the Galápagos Islands. In this setup, the sensitivity of the sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly response to the presence of the Galápagos Islands is examined. Secondly, with the OGCM coupled to the atmosphere via zonal wind stress, experiments are conducted with and without the Galápagos Islands to determine how the Galápagos Islands influence the timescale of ENSO.

In the forced setup, the Galápagos Islands lead to a damped SST anomaly given an identical zonal wind stress perturbation. Mixed layer heat budget calculations implicate the entrainment–mixing term, which confirms that the difference is due to the Galápagos Islands changing the background mean state, i.e., the equatorial thermocline as diagnosed in a previous paper. In the hybrid coupled experiments, there is a clear shift in the power spectrum of SST anomalies in the eastern equatorial Pacific. Specifically, the Galápagos Islands lead to a shift in the ENSO timescale from a biennial to a quasi–quadrennial period. Mechanisms for the shift in ENSO timescale due to the Galápagos Islands are discussed in the context of well–known paradigms for the oscillatory nature of ENSO.