ISSN 1006-9895

CN 11-1768/O4

Contrasting Salinity Interannual Variations in the Tropical Pacific and Their Effects on Recent El Niño Events: 1997/1998, 2014/2015, and 2015/2016

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    Ocean salinity variation provides a new insight into related ENSO (El Niño–Southern Oscillation) expressed by climate variability. In this study, salinity variations and their related dynamic processes responsible for SSTA (sea surface temperature anomaly) were extensively compared and analyzed considering two strong El Niño events, 1997/1998 and 2015/2016, and one special El Niño, 2014/2015. The study shows that the development of ENSO is significantly associated with the occurrence and eastward diffusion of large-scale SSSA (sea surface salinity anomaly) in the western tropical Pacific. In April 1997 and 2015, corresponding to two strong El Niño events, there was a significant negative SSSA in the western–central Pacific. The anomaly moved eastward to the west of the dateline, which induced a shallower MLD (mixing layer depth), and a thicker BLT (barrier layer thickness), which enhanced the surface warming in the tropical central Pacific and the early warming in the equatorial eastern–central Pacific. Although a negative SSSA occurred in the April 2014/2015 weak event in the equatorial western–central Pacific, it did not develop eastward, resulting in a weakened thickening process of the BLT and a weak modulation effect on surface temperature. For the salinity change process corresponding to three El Niño events, surface advection and surface forcing caused by FWF (freshwater flux) were the major contributors to the salinity budget. Surface advection influenced the former variability of salinity tendency, inducing the occurrence of an ENSO signal. The precipitation in the tropical western Pacific had the most significant negative influence on FWF, which played a decisive role in the SSSA occurrence and ENSO development. Compared with the two strong El Niño events, the early FWF negative anomaly in 2014/2015 did not develop, did not move eastward, and weakened rapidly; this resulted in the slowing down of the negative salinity tendency in the western–central Pacific, deepening of the MLD, thinning of the BLT, and rapid cooling of the surface layer, which inhibited early warming in the equatorial eastern Pacific. The results of this study demonstrate that the salinity change was closely related to ENSO, and early SSS in the tropical western–central Pacific could be used as an index of SSTA. In particular, SSSA not only affects the strength of SSTA in oceans, it can also be used as a precursor to judge the development and strength of ENSO.

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  • Received:June 13,2019
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  • Online: September 27,2020
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