El Niño, La Niña, and the global sea level budget
- Atmospheric and Environmental Research, Inc., Lexington, MA 02421, USA
Abstract. Previous studies show that nonseasonal variations in global-mean sea level (GMSL) are significantly correlated with El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). However, it has remained unclear to what extent these ENSO-related GMSL fluctuations correspond to steric (i.e., density) or barystatic (mass) effects. Here we diagnose the GMSL budget for ENSO events observationally using data from profiling floats, satellite gravimetry, and radar altimetry during 2005–2015. Steric and barystatic effects make comparable contributions to the GMSL budget during ENSO, in contrast to previous interpretations based largely on hydrological models, which emphasize the barystatic component. The steric contributions reflect changes in global ocean heat content, centered on the Pacific. Distributions of ocean heat storage in the Pacific arise from a mix of diabatic and adiabatic effects. Results have implications for understanding the surface warming slowdown and demonstrate the usefulness of the Global Ocean Observing System for constraining Earth's hydrological cycle and radiation imbalance.