American Meteorological Society

El Nino Related Tropical Land Surface Water and Energy Response in MERRA-2

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Abstract

Though El Niño events each have distinct evolutionary character they typically provide systematic large scale forcing for warming and increased drought frequency across the tropical continents. We assess this response in the MERRA-2 reanalysis and in a ten-member model AMIP ensemble. The lagged response (3-4 months) of mean tropical land temperature to El Niño warming in the Pacific Ocean is well represented. MERRA-2 reproduces the patterns of precipitation in the tropical regions, while the AMIP ensemble reproduces some regional responses similar to observed, and some regions are not simulating the response well. Model skill is dependent on event forcing strength and temporal proximity to the peak of the sea surface warming.

A composite approach centered on maximum Niño3.4 SSTs and lag relationships to energy fluxes and transports is used to identify mechanisms supporting tropical land warming. The composite necessarily moderates weather scale variability of the individual events, while retaining the systematic features across all events. We find that reduced continental upward motions lead to reduced cloudiness and more shortwave radiation at the surface, as well as reduced precipitation. The increased shortwave heating at the land surface, along with reduced soil moisture leads to warmer surface temperature, more sensible heating and warming of the lower troposphere.

While the composite provides a broad picture of the mechanisms governing the hydrologic response to El Niño forcing, the regional and temporal response can vary substantially for any given event. The 2015-16 El Niño, one of the strongest events, demonstrates some of the forced response noted in the composite, but with shifts in the evolution that depart from the composite, demonstrating the limitations of the composite and individuality of El Niño.

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