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The annual onset of the east Pacific cold tongue is diagnosed in an ocean GCM simulation of the tropical Pacific. The model uses a mixed-layer scheme that explicitly simulates the processes of vertical exchange of heat and momentum with the deeper layers of the ocean; comparison with observations of temperature and currents shows that many important aspects of the model fields are realistic. As previous studies have found, the heat balance in the eastern tropical Pacific is notoriously complicated, and virtually every term in the balance plays a significant role at one time or another. However, despite many complications, the three-dimensional ocean advection terms in the cold tongue region tend to cancel each other in the annual cycle and, to first order, the variation of SST can be described as simply following the variation of net solar radiation at the sea surface (sun minus clouds). The cancellation is primarily between cooling due to equatorial upwelling and warming due to tropical instability waves, both of which are strongest in the second half of the year (when the winds are stronger). Even near the equator, where the ocean advection is relatively intense, the terms associated with cloudiness variations are among the largest contributions to the SST balance. The annual cycle of cloudiness transforms the semiannual solar cycle at the top of the atmosphere into a largely 1 cycle yr−1 variation of insolation at the sea surface. However, the annual cycle of cloudiness appears closely tied to SST in coupled feedbacks (positive for low stratus decks and negative for deep cumulus convection), so the annual cycle of SST cannot be fully diagnosed in an ocean-only modeling context as in the present study. Zonal advection was found to be a relatively small influence on annual equatorial cold tongue variations; in particular, there was little direct (oceanic) connection between the Peru coastal upwelling and equatorial annual cycles. Meridional advection driven by cross-equatorial winds has been conjectured as a key factor leading to the onset of the cold tongue. The results suggest that the SST changes due to this mechanism are modest, and if meridional advection is in fact a major influence, then it must be through interaction with another process (such as a coupled feedback with stratus cloudiness). At present, it is not possible to evaluate this feedback quantitatively.