On the phase propagation and relationship of interannual variability in the tropical Pacific climate system

Document Type


Date of Original Version



Upper ocean thermal data and surface marine observations are used to describe the three-dimensional, basinwide co-evolution of interannual variability in the tropical Pacific climate system. The phase propagation behavior differs greatly from atmosphere to ocean, and from equatorial to off-equatorial and from sea surface to subsurface depths in the ocean. Variations in surface zonal winds and sea surface temperatures (SSTs) exhibit a standing pattern without obvious zonal phase propagation. A nonequilibrium ocean response at subsurface depths is evident, characterized by coherent zonal and meridional propagating anomalies around the tropical North Pacific: eastward on the equator but westward off the equator. Depending on geographic location, there are clear phase relations among various anomaly fields. Surface zonal winds and SSTs in the equatorial region fluctuate approximately in-phase in time, but have phase differences in space. Along the equator, zonal mean thermocline depth (or heat content) anomalies are in nonequilibrium with the zonal wind stress forcing. Variations in SSTs are not in equilibrium either with subsurface thermocline changes in the central and western equatorial Pacific, with the former lagging the latter and displaced to the east. Due to its phase relations to SST and winds, the basinwide temperature anomaly evolution at thermocline depths on an interannual time scale may determine the slow physics of ENSO, and play a central role in initiating and terminating coupled air-sea interaction. This observed basinwide phase propagation of subsurface anomaly patterns can be understood partially as water discharge processes from the western Pacific to the east and further to high latitudes, and partially by the modified delayed oscillator physics.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Climate Dynamics