Mechanisms of locking of the El Niño and La Niña mature phases to boreal winter

S. I. An, B. Wang

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90 Citations (Scopus)


The peaks of El Niño in the Cane-Zebiak (CZ) model tend to appear most frequently around November when the ocean Rossby waves, which were amplified during the previous unstable season (February-May), turn back to the eastern Pacific and when the local instability in the eastern Pacific is very weak. The peaks of La Niña in the CZ model occur most frequently in boreal summer, in contrast to the observed counterpart that usually occurs in boreal winter. Sensitivity experiments indicate that the phase locking of the La Niña to boreal summer is primarily caused by seasonal variations of the tropical convergence zone, which regulate convective heating through atmospheric convergence feedback. The observed thermocline and the wind anomalies in the western Pacific exhibit considerable seasonal variations. These were missed in the original CZ model. In a modified CZ model that includes the seasonal variations of the western Pacific wind anomalies and the basic-state thermocline depth, the peaks of La Niña preferably occur in boreal winter, suggesting that the seasonal variation of the western Pacific surface wind anomalies and the mean thermocline depth are critical factors for the phase locking of the mature La Niña to boreal winter. The mechanisms by which these factors affect ENSO phase locking are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2164-2176
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2001 May 1

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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