Sustained intensification of the Aleutian Low induces weak tropical Pacific sea surface warming

William J. Dow, Christine M. McKenna, Manoj M. Joshi, Adam T. Blaker, Richard Rigby, Amanda C. Maycock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

It has been proposed that externally forced trends in the Aleutian Low can induce a basin-wide Pacific sea surface temperature (SST) response that projects onto the pattern of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). To investigate this hypothesis, we apply local atmospheric nudging in an intermediate-complexity climate model to isolate the effects of an intensified winter Aleutian Low sustained over several decades. An intensification of the Aleutian Low produces a basin-wide SST response with a similar pattern to the model's internally generated PDO. The amplitude of the SST response in the North Pacific is comparable to the PDO, but in the tropics and southern subtropics the anomalies induced by the imposed Aleutian Low anomaly are a factor of 3 weaker than for the internally generated PDO. The tropical Pacific warming peaks in boreal spring, though anomalies persist year-round. A heat budget analysis shows the northern subtropical Pacific SST response is predominantly driven by anomalous surface turbulent heat fluxes in boreal winter, while in the equatorial Pacific the response is mainly due to meridional heat advection in boreal spring. The propagation of anomalies from the extratropics to the tropics can be explained by the seasonal footprinting mechanism, involving the wind–evaporation–SST feedback. The results show that low-frequency variability and trends in the Aleutian Low could contribute to basin-wide anomalous Pacific SST, but the magnitude of the effect in the tropical Pacific, even for the extreme Aleutian Low forcing applied here, is small. Therefore, external forcing of the Aleutian Low is unlikely to account for observed decadal SST trends in the tropical Pacific in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357–367
Number of pages11
JournalWeather and Climate Dynamics
Volume5
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2024

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