Finding: North Pacific climate patterns influence El Nino occurrences

From the INSTITUTE OF ATMOSPHERIC PHYSICS, CHINESE ACADEMY OF SCIENCES and the “tail wagging the dog” department.

For decades, the world’s leading scientists have observed the phenomena known as El Nino and La Nina. Both significantly impact the global climate and both pose a puzzle to scientists since they’re not completely understood. Now, a new study helps clear up some of the obscurity surrounding El Nino and La Nina, which together are called the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO). This new study examines ENSO frequency asymmetry during different phases of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), a climate pattern in the North Pacific.

This is an artistic representation of the observed Pacific Decadal Oscillation spatial pattern in the North Pacific and its significant association with El Niño/La Niña occurrence, which is also evident in most CMIP5 models. CREDIT Advances in Atmospheric Sciences

Previous studies have investigated the relationship between ENSO and PDO but none have examined if the warm (positive) and cool (negative) phases of PDO in the North Pacific influence the frequency of ENSO events in the tropical Pacific. “For the first time,” said Prof. ZHENG Fei from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and coauthor on the study, “we quantitatively demonstrated that El Nino is 300 percent more (58 percent less) frequent than La Nina in positive (negative) PDO phases.”

The findings were published in Advances of Atmospheric Sciences and selected as the cover article of Issue 5.

To arrive at their findings, the researchers used observational data and the output of 19 models from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5). “By adopting the observations and CMIP5 climate model simulations,” said Zheng, “we had an opportunity to explore how PDO modulates the occurrence of ENSO.” This type of exploration meets an increasing need today, which is for scientists to better understand the mechanisms that affect the occurrence of ENSO.

While all the answers surrounding these events aren’t known, the effects of ENSO are well understood. When sea surface temperatures are warmer or cooler than normal in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, weather patterns around the world are impacted. Everything from pressure systems to wind and precipitation can be influenced by ENSO, including the supply of water in a region since it can cause moisture extremes.

ZHENG and his group at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have been focusing on ENSO for more than 10 years now. The results from their own recent studies showing that ENSO prediction highly relies on off-equatorial physical processes motivated this latest study exploring the effects of PDO, according to Zheng, who believes that this approach is necessary to understand ENSO better. “Our study suggests that more attention should be paid to the processes outside the equator when attempting ENSO predictions to provide reliable warning of climate extreme events and avoid potential economic loss,” he said.


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March 7, 2018 7:24 am

Finally someone looking at the real factors that affect climate, not the CO2 bogyman. Obviously he couldn’t get this published in the US.

Reply to  flyboy46
March 7, 2018 10:00 am

We don’t know if they looked at the real factors. They looked at what happens in climate simulations.

Reply to  Anonymoose
March 7, 2018 11:38 am

@Anonymoose, “climate simulations”……all 19 of them.
If they were compared alongside the “observational data” the above article alludes to, then that would be right and proper.
The linked paper does report that “the models cannot reasonably reproduce this difference” so my reading is that they didn’t just go with the modelling, in fact they appear to question the findings based on the models.
But that’s just what I see…_

Reply to  Anonymoose
March 7, 2018 3:00 pm

“By adopting the observations and CMIP5 climate model simulations,” said Zheng, “we had an opportunity to explore how PDO modulates the occurrence of ENSO.”

Reply to  flyboy46
March 7, 2018 4:55 pm

I do not see them considering the sea floor vulcanism in the West Pacific that seems to heat up the water there more than the Sun can do. Heat sources from beneath the sea HAVE to be considered.

Tom Halla
March 7, 2018 7:36 am

So the PDO affects ENSO. It still looks like no one has a good idea what causes either, just that either has a major affect on weather patterns.

Ian W
Reply to  Tom Halla
March 7, 2018 7:52 am

ENSO affects PDO which affects ENSO – it’s called a cycle.

Reply to  Ian W
March 7, 2018 8:29 am

Or a complex, non-linear system – everything affects everything. That’s part of the problem with modeling it, the other being that you can’t establish starting conditions because everything affects everything.

Reply to  Ian W
March 7, 2018 10:33 am

Or perhaps their’s a third factor that is controlling both?
I’m not saying there is or is not a third factor, just pointing out how little we know about how the climate actually operates.

Reply to  Ian W
March 7, 2018 3:47 pm

third factor may well be the lunar tidal cycle. there are huge differences in the annual tide heights in the areas of the oceans that see the largest tidal movement. this translates to huge differences in flow rates into and out of the various ocean basins. would be nice to see the numbers on this, i am too dumb to even begin to approximate them beyond the highly technical term “huge” 🙂

Pop Piasa
Reply to  Tom Halla
March 7, 2018 10:23 am

I think that in a few more decades enough observation will have taken place to understand more of the key factors, insolation, clouds, winds, etc, and short to medium range predictions of the cycles may be possible.
There are already multitudes of teleconnections these cycles have established and the southern oscillation index will give warning of a change of enso state as it is right now.
The Madden-Julian Oscillation would be a great thing to be able to predict, if pigs start flying. Meanwhile it’s very useful in NA for short-term weather prediction.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Pop Piasa
March 7, 2018 12:45 pm

pop If there was an honest attempt to understand climate, we wouldn’t be still stuck with the debunked 40 year old CO2 control knob formula that overheats reality by 200%. This climate phlogiston has been propped up with epicycles of adjustments, scotch tape and sermons from the Synod of Climateer Bishops.

March 7, 2018 7:38 am

“For the first time, we quantitatively demonstrated that El Nino is 300 percent more (58 percent less) frequent than La Nina in positive (negative) PDO phases.”
Lol, watch me for the first time quantitatively demonstrate that a week consists of 7 days!
Am I missing something?

Reply to  Dave in Canmore
March 7, 2018 11:24 am

USUALLY, when this is the first thought, one is missing something. SOMETIMES, like in the famous hermeneutics of quantum gravity, one is NOT missing anything.

March 7, 2018 7:50 am

Understand the Oceans, Understand the Global Temperatures
Here at CO2isLife we have consistently maintained that to understand the climate you have to understand the oceans. The oceans, not CO2, is are the major drivers of global climate and temperatures. The oceans contain 2,000x more energy than the atmosphere, and CO2’s only defined mechanism by which to affect climate change is by thermalizing … Continue reading

Reply to  co2islife
March 7, 2018 8:20 am

100% co2islife. I have come to that conclusion myself after reading thousands of articles on WUWT over the years. And I’m not a scientist, although I have a BSc. When people finally are told this information, it will be a relief to have a believable common-sense theory about the main control knob for planetary climate.

March 7, 2018 8:20 am

Paul H. Whitfield, R.D. (Dan) Moore, Sean W. Fleming, and Alexi Zawadzki (2010). Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the Hydroclimatology of Western Canada—Review and Prospects, Canadian Water Resources Journal, Vol. 35, No.1, pp.1–28.

March 7, 2018 8:33 am

The sun and hydrothermal vents add heat energy to the 70% of the planet covered by oceans. They also, of course, add heat energy to the other 30% which is land through solar irradiance and geothermal activity. The oceans store, transport and release this energy while the clouds intervene to warm temperatures at night by preventing heat loss and cool temperatures by day through increased albedo. Seems simple enough but very little is presently quantified. The .04% of our atmosphere which is co2’s contribution to all of this is lost in the noise. Less models and more observational data needed.

March 7, 2018 8:46 am

To arrive at their findings, the researchers used observational data and the output of 19 models from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5). “By adopting the observations and CMIP5 climate model simulations,” said Zheng, “we had an opportunity to explore how PDO modulates the occurrence of ENSO.”

So the CMIP5 models that can’t predict the PDO or ENSO are used to confirm their findings…..hmmm..

Reply to  pbweather
March 7, 2018 9:33 am

Catch 22. Good observation.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Naryn
Reply to  ristvan
March 7, 2018 4:19 pm

Are they saying they used the models to confirm the validity of the observations? An interesting concept.

Richard M
March 7, 2018 8:52 am

One of the common views of the PDO is that it is an after effect of ENSO processes. The positive PDO is essentially an after effect of El Nino. If this is true you will naturally see more El Nino events along with the positive PDO. They caused it. If so, this paper is essentially meaningless.
OTOH, there is another view that the PDO structure is driven by yet some unknown process which then makes El Nino events more or less likely.
I wonder if the paper tries to differentiate between these views.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Richard M
March 7, 2018 12:57 pm

Bob Tisdale convincingly showed that the PDO heating represents the end game of an El Nino event by using animation of a complete El Nino cycle. You can watch the hot water in the West Pacific flowing northwards out of the equatorial zone. IIRC, the aftermath of El Nino persists for several years as warm water in the North central Pacific.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Naryn
Reply to  Gary Pearse
March 7, 2018 4:20 pm

Bob also said it is not a cycle. It is an event.

March 7, 2018 9:32 am

Not sure the underlying data to make this ‘precise’ connection is sufficiently sound to make the paper’s conclusions trustworthy. PDO was discovered mid 1990s by fisheries biologists looking at Alaskan salmon run variation. Instruments afterwards, but before 1996 only fishy proxies. ENSO instrumental monitoring goes back a few decades (e.g. TAO buoys), but before then its all the usual suspect paleoproxies. Several papers located with a quick googlefu—high uncertainties and usual lack of proxy agreement leading to suspect Mannian statistical treatment of messy proxy networks.

Stephen Wilde
March 7, 2018 10:08 am

ENSO develops because of the different amounts of water available to receive solar energy in the north and south hemispheres either side of the equator.
Over time an energy surplus forms to the south of the equator and needs to be periodically discharged into the northern hemisphere in order to retain equilibrium.
ENSO represents that periodical discharge (El Nino) and the subsequent build up (La Nina) to the next discharge.
Over longer multi decadal and multi centennial periods of time the balance within ENSO between El Nino and La Nina shifts as a result of solar variability affecting global cloudiness via ozone changes in the stratosphere.
A quiet sun with wavier jets and more clouds reduces energy into the oceans so that the balance shifts in favour of La Nina for a net cooling effect.
An active sun with less wavy jets and less clouds allows more energy into the oceans so that the balance shifts in favour of El Nino for a net warming effect.

Reply to  Stephen Wilde
March 7, 2018 10:37 am

The problem is that the PDO is a 60 years cycle, while the sun has an 11 year cycle.

Stephen Wilde
Reply to  MarkW
March 7, 2018 2:30 pm

ENSO has a periodicity of 2 or 3 years and so there are several ENSO cycles within a single solar cycle such that the 11 year solar signal is swamped.
The 60 year PDO is a different mechanism and the solar effect on that only becomes apparent over many decades or over centuries.
A long period of increasing solar activity will affect the PDO from one positive PDO to the next which produces the stepwise warming found in observations.
A long period of decreasing solar activity would produce stepwise cooling from one negative period of PDO to the next.

Reply to  Stephen Wilde
March 7, 2018 2:05 pm

@ Stephen, that makes sense to me.

Reply to  Stephen Wilde
March 7, 2018 2:15 pm

Over time an energy surplus forms to the south of the equator and needs to be periodically discharged into the northern hemisphere in order to retain equilibrium.

If that truly were the dynamic underlying the ENSO phenomenon, then there would be very substantial flow of water from the southern hemisphere to the northern. But there isn’t! While hemispheric thermal imbalances factor into the positioning of the ITCZ generally north of the equator, the cyclical behavior of ENSO remains somewhat a dynamical conundrum.

Stephen Wilde
Reply to  1sky1
March 7, 2018 2:24 pm

During the course of the progress of El Nino across the central Pacific much of the surplus heat is transferred to the air.
Additionally, if you check out the thermohaline circulation you will see flows across the equator at lower levels beneath the ocean surface.

Reply to  1sky1
March 7, 2018 4:11 pm

Winds are scarcely less hemisphere-bound than ocean currents. And deep thermohaline circulation is not a significant factor in ENSO, a largely near-surface phenomenon whose drivers, as dynamic oceanographers will admit, remain much unexplained–despite various conjectures.

Reply to  Stephen Wilde
March 7, 2018 6:49 pm

Your comment makes me think of what I have observed in recent years. One thing I noted was that the winds approaching the Equator from the south have typically crossed the Equator by around 5 degrees. I had always wondered about that, but assumed that this was just the way the winds were. Guess what? There has been a recent change since the outflow of cold surface winds started moving down the North Atlantic. There are winds now crossing to the south of the Equator.
Look at what is going on in the Atlantic, ….,-4.57,671/loc=-16.409,0.393
All of these surface wind changes which have recently taken place are a radical shift from previous years. Climate change, it’s happening in front of our eyes. Think about it though. My outlook is that the climate system has reverted to a cooling pattern. If a cooling trend is what lies ahead for the next 20 years, then there should be observable changes to be seen from the satellite data as seen through earthnullschool, for example. Currently, I have noted different cooling winds start up in influential areas/regions of the globe. It would be easy to see that, if the current patterns become the status quo for long enough, then the oceans surface will cool, and so the globe.
This is day 7 of these winds moving south with major consequences emanating from this flow in altering surfacw winds elsewhere, a domino effect, …,51.41,671/loc=-34.024,47.665

Stephen Wilde
Reply to  goldminor
March 8, 2018 2:31 am

You are seeing what I have been seeing.
I first noticed the change in jet stream behaviour around 2000 and it has been intensifying since, namely a change back towards more wavy, equatorward jets, increased global cloudiness, less solar energy into the oceans, weakening of El Ninos relative to Las Ninas (though that last process is only in early stages) and ultimately a cooling world.

March 7, 2018 10:19 am

No way! The weather influences the weather? I don’t “believe” it!

Jeff L
March 7, 2018 10:27 am

This is nothing new . The Joes @ Weatherbell have been talking about this phenomena for years. Maybe they don’t get Wxbell in China ?? 🙂

March 7, 2018 10:35 am

How about intensity?

March 7, 2018 10:39 am

I would have thought that the relation between PDO and ENSO was so well known as to not constitute a scientific finding. Precisely a couple of days ago I was writing “2018 is already poised to be less warm than 2017 given winter conditions and ENSO situation. The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) index is in decline and back to predominantly negative values since July 2017. The conditions that drive a negative PDO make a La Niña more likely. If a La Niña finally develops in 2018-2020 we should see a continuation of the short term cooling trend that started in February 2016.”
Absolutely non controversial stuff, and yet today I find out that the PDO-ENSO relationship was a finding to some climate scientists. Do I get any credit for knowing it beforehand? I don’t think I deserve it because it is something so obvious that thousands of climatologists must know it. I mean one only needs to look at both graphs.
Most climatology articles are just not worth the time to read them. The field is clearly oversized.

barn E. rubble
Reply to  Javier
March 7, 2018 12:41 pm

I was pretty sure Bob T. covered this . . .

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Javier
March 7, 2018 1:01 pm

Javier, they are making rediscoveries at an increasing pace in climate science.

Reply to  Javier
March 7, 2018 2:08 pm

@ Javier…maybe the Chinese never thought to look at both graphs at the same time.

Reply to  Javier
March 7, 2018 2:40 pm

“Most climatology articles are just not worth the time to read them. The field is clearly oversized.”
That is the perception here, but it merely reflects the editorial policy of the host. If the stories are not being chosen to highlight innovative, compelling research, why post them?

Reply to  zazove
March 7, 2018 2:59 pm

I read and peruse several climate articles everyday. The amount of “me too” and “quick model test” articles is mind boggling. The field would benefit from a good shake up to get rid of dead weight and concentrate the funding where the talent and the drive are.

Reply to  zazove
March 7, 2018 3:00 pm

For some reason zazove actually believes that there is innovative and compelling research being done by the so called “climate science” community.
zazove, anyone can create an article and submit it for posting. Since you are convinced they exist, why don’t you prove it by creating an article and submit it.

Reply to  zazove
March 7, 2018 3:28 pm

Agreed, but my point is that there IS higher quality material out there, so why reprint something that does “not constitute a scientific finding”?

Reply to  zazove
March 8, 2018 2:29 pm

Once again zazove, if there is indeed high quality research being done, then why not either post links to it, or better yet, write and submit an article of your own.
Unless of course you are also aware that you are just blowing smoke.

Reply to  Javier
March 7, 2018 11:18 pm

‘The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) index is in decline and back to predominantly negative values since July 2017.’
In late July 2017 the subtropical ridge in the SH seemed to lose its intensity and its been the same ever since.
‘The conditions that drive a negative PDO make a La Niña more likely.’
La Ninas were more common during the LIA, so the PDO may also have been negative for a lot of that time?

Reply to  ironicman
March 8, 2018 1:36 am

La Ninas were more common during the LIA, so the PDO may also have been negative for a lot of that time?
Perhaps, but it is not clear. Low solar activity promotes La Niña-like conditions in the Pacific, that according to models are not really La Niña events. This is discussed in Meehl et al., 2009 “Amplifying the Pacific Climate System Response to a Small 11-Year Solar Cycle Forcing”
“This cold event–like response to peak solar forcing is different from cold events (also known as La Niña events) in the Southern Oscillation in that, among other things, zonal wind anomalies in the stratosphere are opposite in sign (23).”

Stephen Wilde
Reply to  ironicman
March 8, 2018 2:27 am

Interesting to see that reference to stratospheric changes since I have been proposing for some time that it is solar induced stratospheric changes that ultimately affect ENSO and PDO via global air circulation changes that affect jet stream tracks and cloudiness.

Reply to  ironicman
March 8, 2018 4:24 pm

So why did the SH subtropical ridge lose its intensity at exactly the same moment as the PDO went negative?

March 7, 2018 1:22 pm

Anomalies can be misleading. Yes, there is a pattern (enso, pdo, amo, global and various temperature indices…), but this is real temperatures (roughly):

Reply to  edimbukvarevic
March 7, 2018 3:03 pm

Curious that you would call real to the product of reanalysis. Clearly the concept of reality is diluting.
Now a quick question, what percentage of those pixels don’t have a real measurement behind?

Reply to  Javier
March 7, 2018 4:09 pm

Apart from disagreeing with entire premise of the comment – that anomalies aren’t useful and calling it reality, which is a bit of an own goal – he did qualify it with “roughly” and I think that is fair enough. The point of a graphic like that is to portray a larger, more general pattern, not so that you can determine the precise seasonal temperature change in Anchorage or Alice Springs. Likewise rough depictions of anomalies can reveal significant patterns, like the temperature anomaly in the Arctic does.

Reply to  zazove
March 7, 2018 5:45 pm

You are ignoring the part that it is reanalysis. Perhaps you don’t know what reanalysis means. And one thing is clear. It ain’t reality.
Anyway, temperature is an intrinsic intensive property that is changing during the course of a day at any point on the surface of the planet in an unpredictable direction and rate. If there is a global average temperature, we have no way of measuring it. A consistent mathematical treatment of the temperature data gives a consistent value that we term average temperature, although it is not a temperature, but a conversion of intrinsic intensive measurements into an extrinsic extensive value using multiple assumptions. Believing that we are dealing with something real is the first of many mistakes.

Reply to  Javier
March 7, 2018 6:51 pm

I do know what own goal means though.

Reply to  zazove
March 8, 2018 1:38 am

Congratulations. That’s primary education level. Quite an achievement!

March 7, 2018 4:00 pm

ah. enso.

Ian Wilson
Reply to  Steven Mosher
March 8, 2018 12:24 am

While El Nino events preclude La Nina events and it is likely that one type of event influences the other through feed backs, we have been making the fundamental mistake of assuming that both are driven by the same underlying mechanism. They are not.
La Nina’s events facilitate the accumulation of solar-energy in the top few hundred meters of the eastern equatorial Pacific ocean. This is evident from the fact that moderate to strong La Nina events show a pronounced 11-year periodicity that matches the Schwabe sunspot cycle.
Moderate to strong La Nina events that closely follow strong El Nino events also act as a release mechanism for the ocean heat energy that has been accumulated in the Indo-Pacific warm pool. A one-two combination of an El Nino event followed by a La Nina event redirects this excess heat energy into higher mid latitudes where it temporarily increases the world’s mean temperature for a couple of years.
You can think of La Nina events as the source of a substantial accumulated solar heat energy that is periodically pulsed through the climate system from the equatorial regions into the higher mid-latitudes.
I cannot elaborate on the mechanism that is involved at this stage as it still under review. Suffice it to say, however, I have strong evidence to show that it has been the case for at least the last 10,000 years.
It is important to note that the lunar tidal mechanism operates on a short-term time scale of 4.5/9.0 years, which is different from the 11.0 year periodicity of the moderate to strong La Nina events i.e. the two phenomenon are being driven by different mechanism.
The Perigean New/Full Moon Cycle is Synchronized with the Solar Hale Cycle.
To muddy the waters, here is a link between the dominant periods associated with the Perigean New/Full Moon tidal cycles and the Sun’s 22-year Hale Cycle. The periods listed below are those that are evident in the Earth’s mean temperature record for the last 150 years.
9.07130 years
This is the harmonic mean of the prograde Lunar Anomalistic Cycle (LAC = 3231.4956309 days = 8.84754 tropical years) and half of the retrograde Lunar Nodal Cycle ((LNC/2) = 3399.1918853 days = 9.30668 tropical years).
20.29371 years = 18 Full Moon Cycles
If you start out with a New/Full moon that is extremely close to Perigee, you get back a New/Full moon that is also extremely close to perigee 18 Full Moon Cycles later = 20.29371 tropical years.
62.00856 = 55 Full Moon Cycles
The time required for the Perigean New/Full moon tidal cycles to realign with the seasons.
(1 / 9.07130) – (1 / 20.29371) – (1 / 62.00856) = 1 / 22.30
The long-term of the Hale cycle ~ 22.3 years.

Stephen Wilde
Reply to  Ian Wilson
March 8, 2018 2:23 am

I can see that lunar phases might influence timing of stages in the ENSO process but that gives us no indication of underlying causation.

Reply to  Ian Wilson
March 8, 2018 3:17 am

I am sorry but you are going to have to wait till our two papers come out in the next few months.

Reply to  Steven Mosher
March 8, 2018 2:34 pm

Poor Steve, he’s run out of excuses.
Regardless, the current definition of “climate” is 30 years worth of weather.
Since the PDO is a 60 year cycle, and if this paper is correct, than it impacts the ENSO cycle.
Given the well known impact that ENSO has on the climate, if the PDO does cause a preponderance of either El Ninos or La Ninas, then indeed it meets the standard definition for climate.
Beyond that, if we can show that much of the rise in temperature during the 80’s and 90’s was due to PDO and El Ninos, that undercuts the standard alarmist (that’s you Stevie boy) claim that CO2 was the primary driver for those events which is used to justify a higher sensitivity estimate.
Anywho, Steve once again, just ridicules what he is incapable of refuting.

March 7, 2018 4:19 pm

ah, haiku

March 7, 2018 5:57 pm

The average displacement of the ITCZ towards the north is all one needs to allow leakage of Southern Hemisphere heat across the equator.
That displacement is itself the surface manifestation of Southern Hemisphere ocean heat dominance.
Then the north and South Pacific gyres allow equatorial heat to flow to both poles.
Looks quite sufficient to me.
Stephen Wilde via iPhone.

March 7, 2018 7:51 pm

Here is an important domino effect caused by the surface winds blowing south down the North Atlantic. The westerlies from Africa have been pushed to the south, and that means that warm surface winds can not move up the middle of the US. The winds flowing across Central America and into the Pacific are cooling waters as can be seen on cuurent sst graphs. …,28.92,937/loc=-83.775,18.863

March 14, 2018 3:59 am

What troubles me about this is the reliance on computer models to derive conclusions. Climatic computer models have proven notoriously inaccurate because they are only able to account for a few of the factors involved. For example, there is reason to suspect that the eruption of Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano in 2014-15 was largely responsible for the El Nino of 2015-16 through emissions of HCl thinning the ozone layer and allowing a greater influx of solar UV-B radiation to cause warming.

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