Dynamical excitation of the tropical Pacific Ocean and ENSO variability by Little Ice Age cooling

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Science  18 Dec 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6267, pp. 1537-1541
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac9937

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East joins West to complete a picture

How have eastern equatorial Pacific sea surface temperatures varied over the past 1000 years? Today, the tropical Pacific Ocean has a large influence on global climate, through processes such as El Niño. Researchers would thus like to know how the ocean varied in the past. Although good records exist from the western ocean, the same has not been true for the eastern side. Rustic et al. analyzed marine sediments recovered from near the Galapagos Islands. They conclude that the tropical Pacific Ocean changed state about 500 years ago, near the transition between the warm Medieval Climate Anomaly and the cold Little Ice Age.

Science, this issue p. 1537


Tropical Pacific Ocean dynamics during the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA) and the Little Ice Age (LIA) are poorly characterized due to a lack of evidence from the eastern equatorial Pacific. We reconstructed sea surface temperature, El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) activity, and the tropical Pacific zonal gradient for the past millennium from Galápagos ocean sediments. We document a mid-millennium shift (MMS) in ocean-atmosphere circulation around 1500–1650 CE, from a state with dampened ENSO and strong zonal gradient to one with amplified ENSO and weak gradient. The MMS coincided with the deepest LIA cooling and was probably caused by a southward shift of the intertropical convergence zone. The peak of the MCA (900–1150 CE) was a warm period in the eastern Pacific, contradicting the paradigm of a persistent La Niña pattern.

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