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Two key parameters for the El Niño continuum: zonal wind anomalies and Western Pacific subsurface potential temperature



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Lai, AWC 
Graf, HF 


Different types of El Niño (EN) events have recently been discussed. Based on NCEP-NOAA reanalysis data this analysis explores a number of key parameters that cause a range of EN types over the period 1980-2013. EN events are divided into three types depending on the spatial and temporal evolution of the sea surface temperature anomalies (SSTA): Central Pacific (CPEN), Eastern Pacific (EPEN), and Hybrid (HBEN). We find that EN is a continuous spectrum of events with CPEN and EPEN as the end members. This spectrum mainly depends on two key parameters: the 130ºE-160ºE Western Pacific 5m-250m subsurface oceanic potential temperature anomaly (PTA) about one year before the EN peak (typically January and February), and the 140ºE-160ºW cumulative zonal wind anomaly (ZWA) between onset and peak of the EN event. Using these two parameters, about 70% of the total variance of the maximum SSTA realised in different Niño regions can already be explained up to six months before the maximum SSTA occurs. This offers a rather simple potential for ENSO prediction.


This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available via Springer at


Central Pacific El Nino, El Nino continuum, Zonal wind anomalies, Oceanic potential temperature, Thermocline discharge-recharge state

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Climate Dynamics

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC