ENSO diversity shows robust decadal variations that must be captured for accurate future projections

Bastien Dieppois, Antonietta Capotondi, Benjamin Pohl, Kwok Pan Chun, Paul-Arthur Monerie, Jonathan Eden

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El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) shows a large diversity of events that is modulated by climate variability and change. The representation of this diversity in climate models limits our ability to predict their impact on ecosystems and human livelihood. Here, we use multiple observational datasets to provide a probabilistic description of historical variations in event location and intensity, and to benchmark models, before examining future system trajectories. We find robust decadal variations in event intensities and locations in century-long observational datasets, which are associated with perturbations in equatorial wind-stress and thermocline depth, as well as extra-tropical anomalies in the North and South Pacific. Some climate models are capable of simulating such decadal variability in ENSO diversity, and the associated large-scale patterns. Projections of ENSO diversity in future climate change scenarios strongly depend on the magnitude of decadal variations, and the ability of climate models to reproduce them realistically over the 21st century.
Original languageEnglish
Article number212
Number of pages13
JournalCommunications Earth & Environment
Early online date7 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 7 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.


This work is part of the I-SITE Bourgogne Franche-Comté Junior Fellowship IMVULA (Grant N°: AAP2-JF-06), and the Alliance Programme 2020 (Grant N°: 608081922), cofunded by the British Council and Campus-France. AC was supported by the NOAA Climate Program Office’s Climate Variability and Predictability (CVP) and Modelling, Analysis, Predictions and Projections (MAPP) programs. The authors would like to thank Noel Keenlyside and Lander Crespo (Geophysical Institute, University of Bergen) for their helpful discussions. The authors also thank three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions that have significantly improved the paper.


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