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A Review of ENSO Theories


Authors:  Chunzai Wang


Published:     10th October, 2018



The ENSO occurrence can be usually explained by two views of (1) a self-sustained oscillatory mode and (2) a stable mode interacting with high-frequency forcing such as westerly wind bursts and Madden-Julian Oscillation events. The positive ocean-atmosphere feedback in the tropical Pacific hypothesized by Bjerknes leads ENSO event to a mature phase. After ENSO event matures, negative feedbacks are needed to cease ENSO anomaly growth. Four negative feedbacks have been proposed: (1) reflected Kelvin waves at the ocean western boundary, (2) a discharge process due to Sverdrup transport, (3) western Pacific wind-forced Kelvin waves, and (4) anomalous zonal advections and wave reflection at the ocean eastern boundary. These four ENSO mechanisms are respectively called as the delayed oscillator, the recharge-discharge oscillator, the western Pacific oscillator and the advective-reflective oscillator. The unified oscillator is developed by including all ENSO mechanisms, i.e., all of four ENSO oscillators are special cases of the unified oscillator. The tropical Pacific Ocean and atmosphere interaction can also induce coupled slow westward and eastward propagating modes. An advantage of the coupled slow modes is that they can be used to explain the propagating property of interannual anomalies, whereas the oscillatory modes produce a standing oscillation. The research community has recently paid attention to different types of ENSO events by focusing on the central Pacific El Niño. All of the ENSO mechanisms may work for the central Pacific El Niño events, with an addition that the central Pacific El Niño may be related to forcing or processes in the extratropical Pacific.


Link to full paper:   This very recent paper is behind a paywall but I found this link to the pre-submission version: 



Once in the Researchgate site, you'll find a personally downloadable to your own browser pdf file.

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