The Possible Link Between Net Surface Heating and El Niño

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Science  02 Sep 1983:
Vol. 221, Issue 4614, pp. 947-949
DOI: 10.1126/science.221.4614.947


Three diagnostic analyses are described which strongly suggest the importance of local net surface heating in the life history of the large-scale, air-sea phenomenon centered in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, commonly called El Niño. These analyses rely upon monthly marine weather summaries for the period 1957 to 1976. In the first, correlations and coherence spectra were calculated which show a strong link between the net surface heat flux and sea-surface temperature variations over the eastern equatorial Pacific. The second analysis, also based upon the use of coherence spectra, indicates a sea temperature precursor in the eastern ocean near 25°S which precedes sea temperature changes near the El Niño focus near 5°S. Since the link between the two regions would require ocean advective velocities that appear to be unreasonably large, this analysis also suggests the importance of atmospheric forcing through the surface heat flux. In the third analysis a proxy variable is described that seems to be a reasonable indicator of the overall effect of ocean dynamics on the temperature of the El Niño core region. A composite analysis of the four El Niño events of 1957, 1965, 1972, and 1976 suggests that local surface heating is important during the early part of an event, whereas dynamical factors dominate later.