Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)
Meteorology and Physical Oceanography (Marine)
Date of Defense
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
Fifth Committee Member
Mechanisms of tropical Pacific climate variability and change are studied in numerical experiments of future anthropogenic global warming (AGW), the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) 21,000 years ago, and decadal variability (PDV). According to these mechanisms the equatorial Pacific does not become either El Niño- or La Niña-like as the tropics warm up in response to increasing greenhouse gases. Because humidity increases much faster than precipitation as the tropical atmosphere warms up, theory and models anticipate a slowing-down of the Walker circulation in order to keep a balanced flow of water vapor into areas of convection. On long time scales characteristic of climate change, ocean dynamics oppose these changes in the Walker circulation. First, equatorial adjustment theory indicates that changes in the Walker circulation are not amplified via the Bjerknes feedback, as during El Niño or La Niña events. Second, during AGW, the ocean becomes more thermally stratified resulting in enhanced cooling of the equatorial cold tongue opposing the warming there. These ideas can be applied to interpret proxies of the LGM for which El Niño and La Niña analogies have been made. However, the LGM tropics are not an opposite analogue to future AGW because the Walker circulation is also sensitive to changes in the geography of the Maritime continent associated with lower sea level. Models simulate a stronger Walker circulation when the tropics cool in order to compensate for the decrease in moisture due to a cooler/drier atmosphere. However, this response is opposed by a weakening of the ascending branch of the Walker circulation because convection is suppressed over vast areas of the Maritime Continent exposed due to lower sea level. In general, the patterns of warming or cooling for AGW and LGM are not El Niño- or La Niña-like because of the opposing mechanisms presented here. As such, adherence to an ENSO analogy for interpreting tropical Pacific climate change can lead to serious misconceptions. However, proxies of the thermocline tilt can provide unequivocal evidence of changes in the Walker circulation because the pressure gradient associated with the thermocline tilt has to be in balance with the trade winds at all timescales.
global warming, ENSO, tropical Pacific
Di Nezio, Pedro N., "Mechanisms of Tropical Pacific Climate Change: Beyond the Bjerknes Feedback" (2011). Open Access Dissertations. 567.