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Journal Article

Future high-resolution El Niño/Southern Oscillation dynamics


Wengel,  Christian
The Ocean in the Earth System, MPI for Meteorology, Max Planck Society;

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Wengel, C., Lee, S.-S., Stuecker, M. F., Timmermann, A., Chu, J.-E., & Schloesser, F. (2021). Future high-resolution El Niño/Southern Oscillation dynamics. Nature Climate Change, 11, 758-765. doi:10.1038/s41558-021-01132-4.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0009-15CD-9
The current generation of climate models does not properly resolve oceanic mesoscale processes in tropical oceans, such as tropical instability waves. The associated deficit in explicit vertical and lateral heat exchange can further contribute to large-scale equatorial temperature biases, which in turn impact the representation of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and its sensitivity to greenhouse warming. Here, using a mesoscale-resolving global climate model with an improved representation of tropical climate, we show that a quadrupling of atmospheric CO2 causes a robust weakening of future simulated ENSO sea surface temperature variability. This sensitivity is caused mainly by stronger latent heat flux damping and weaker advective feedbacks. Stratification-induced weakening of tropical instability wave activity and the corresponding growth of ENSO instability partly offset the effect of other negative dynamical feedbacks. Our results demonstrate that previous lower-resolution greenhouse warming projections did not adequately simulate important ENSO-relevant ocean mesoscale processes.