Interannual and decadal variability in the tropical and midlatitude Pacific Ocean Academic Article uri icon


  • Forty-four years of mechanical and expendable bathythermograph observations are assimilated into a general circulation model of the Pacific Ocean. The model is run from 1950 through 1993 with forcing at the surface from observed monthly mean wind stress and temperature. The resulting analysis is used to describe the spatial and temporal patterns of variability at interannual and decadal periods. Interannual variability has its largest surface temperature expression in the Tropics and decadal variability has its largest surface temperature expression in the midlatitude Pacific. However, there are important interannual surface temperature changes that occur in the midlatitude Pacific and there are important decadal surface temperature changes in the Tropics. An empirical orthogonal function (EOF) analysis of model data that has been bandpass filtered to retain energy at periods of 1-5 yr and at periods greater than 5 yr is presented. The results suggest that interannual variability is dominated by a positive feedback mechanism in the Tropics and a negative feedback mechanism in the midlatitude ocean, resulting in larger anomalies in the Tropics. A second EOF analysis of model data that has been low-pass filtered to retain periods greater than 5 yr reveals patterns of wind and surface temperature anomalies that have strikingly similar structure to the interannual patterns; however, the sequencing between the first and second EOFs is different. Even though there are large decadal anomalies of wind stress in the Tropics, the largest anomalies of surface temperature and ocean heat content occur at mid- and high latitudes. The EOF analysis indicates that decadal variability has a positive feedback mechanism that operates in the midlatitude ocean and a negative feedback mechanism that operates in the Tropics, so that the largest temperature anomalies are in midlatitudes. Previous studies have cited the contribution of heat flux anomalies as the primary cause of decadal surface temperature anomalies. These model studies indicate that meridional advection of heat is at least as important. The timing of interannual and decadal changes in the atmosphere and in the ocean suggests that the atmosphere plays an important role connecting these phenomena. One interpretation of the results is that interannual and decadal variability are manifestations of the same climate phenomena but have crucially different feedback mechanisms.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Giese, B. S., & Carton, J. A.

citation count

  • 52

complete list of authors

  • Giese, BS||Carton, JA

publication date

  • December 1999