Articles | Volume 5, issue 3
20 Aug 2009
 | 20 Aug 2009

Regional impacts of ocean color on tropical Pacific variability

W. Anderson, A. Gnanadesikan, and A. Wittenberg

Abstract. The role of the penetration length scale of shortwave radiation into the surface ocean and its impact on tropical Pacific variability is investigated with a fully coupled ocean, atmosphere, land and ice model. Previous work has shown that removal of all ocean color results in a system that tends strongly towards an El Niño state. Results from a suite of surface chlorophyll perturbation experiments show that the mean state and variability of the tropical Pacific is highly sensitive to the concentration and distribution of ocean chlorophyll. Setting the near-oligotrophic regions to contain optically pure water warms the mean state and suppresses variability in the western tropical Pacific. Doing the same above the shadow zones of the tropical Pacific also warms the mean state but enhances the variability. It is shown that increasing penetration can both deepen the pycnocline (which tends to damp El Niño) while shifting the mean circulation so that the wind response to temperature changes is altered. Depending on what region is involved this change in the wind stress can either strengthen or weaken ENSO variability.