Two types of El Niño events: Cold tongue El Niño and warm pool El Niño

Jong Seong Kug, Fei Fei Jin, Soon Il An

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1154 Citations (Scopus)


In this study, two types of El Niño events are classified based on spatial patterns of the sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly. One is the cold tongue (CT) El Niño, which can be regarded as the conventional El Niño, and the other the warm pool (WP) El Niño. The CT El Niño is characterized by relatively large SST anomalies in the Niño-3 region (58S-58N, 1508-908W), while the WP El Niño is associated with SST anomalies mostly confined to the Niño-4 region (58S-58N, 1608E-1508W). In addition, spatial patterns of many atmospheric and oceanic variables are also distinctively different for the two types of El Niño events. Furthermore, the difference in the transition mechanism between the two types of El Niño is clearly identified. That is, the discharge process of the equatorial heat content associated with the WP El Niño is not efficient owing to the spatial structure of SST anomaly; as a result, it cannot trigger a cold event. It is also demonstrated that zonal advective feedback (i.e., zonal advection of mean SST by anomalous zonal currents) plays a crucial role in the development of a decaying SST anomaly associated with theWP El Niño, while thermocline feedback is a key process during the CT El Niño.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1499-1515
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by a grant of the German Federal Ministry for Families, the State Ministry for Social Affairs and Consumer Protection Saxony, the TUI Foundation, the Dürr Foundation, and the Reimann-Dubbers Foundation.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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