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Understanding Dynamics and Thermodynamics of ENSO and its Complexity Simulated by E3SM and Other Climate Models

Funding Program Area(s)
Project Type
University Grant
Project Term
Project Team

Principal Investigator

Despite the seeming success of most state-of-the-art climate models in simulating the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), there is strong evidence that models may often achieve realistic levels of ENSO activity for the wrong reasons. This occurs due to a near-cancellation of large errors in the relative contribution of coupled dynamic and thermodynamic feedback processes to the growth of ENSO anomalies. Earth System Models (ESMs) models remain deficient in simulating the observed ENSO spatial and temporal complexity that involves interplays of coupled dynamic and thermodynamic feedbacks, interactions across multiple scales, nonlinear processes in the tropical atmosphere and ocean system, biases in mean sate and physical processes, and influences external to the equatorial Pacific coupled ENSO dynamics. Our proposed research aims at advancing predictive and process-level understandings of ENSO simulated in E3SM and other ESMs under current and future climate conditions with two main objectives: (i) to better understand the aforementioned broad-range of interactive processes and sources that control the fundamental properties of ENSO in E3SM and CMIP6 outputs and in observational (reanalysis) data sets, using a hierarchy of coupled dynamical frameworks consisting of theoretical analysis, intermediate complexity modeling, and coupled dynamic diagnostics; (ii) using this understanding to explore pathways towards improving E3SM’s capability of simulating ENSO and its complexity. More specifically, we will focus on four main thrusts of research: (1) ENSO’s dynamic and thermodynamic feedbacks; (2) the across-scale interactions of ENSO with the annual cycle and MJO/WWB/TIW (Madden Julian Oscillation/Westerly Wind Burst/Tropical Instability Wave) activity; (3) key nonlinear processes of ENSO involving atmospheric convective thresholds, nonlinear ocean dynamic heating, and thermocline outcropping; and (4) the impacts of climate mean-state biases/changes and perturbed physical processes on simulated ENSO and its complexity.

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