TitleStatistical evidence for the natural variation of the central pacific El Niño
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsKim, J-S, Kim, K-Y, Yeh, S-W
JournalJ. Geophys. Res.

Extensive studies claimed that the central equatorial Pacific (CP) El Niño has occurred more frequently and strongly than the eastern equatorial Pacific (EP) El Niño in recent years. To explain this phenomenon, spatial patterns and principal component time series from several sea surface temperature (SST) datasets in the tropical Pacific are analyzed for the period of 1951-2010. Cyclostationary empirical orthogonal function (CSEOF) analysis separates two modes of SST variability, which explain respectively about 50% and 10% of the total SST variability; their spatial and temporal patterns are similar among the different SST datasets. The first mode captures the typical El Niño pattern, while the second mode is a dipole pattern in the tropical Pacific. The two modes are, by definition, uncorrelated over the analysis period but are in-phase since the late 1990s; superposition of the two modes results in a significant warming in the CP region, which is a potential explanation for a more frequent occurrence of the CP El Niño in the recent decades. Similar analysis is conducted based on the 500-yr data from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory Climate Model version 2.1 under the pre-industrial condition. The result is generally consistent with the observations yielding occasional in-phase relationship between the two modes. Thus, it cannot be ruled out that a more frequent occurrence of the CP El Niño in recent years is a natural feature of the equatorial climate system.