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Effectiveness of the Bjerknes stability index in representing ocean dynamics


Graham, FS and Brown, JN and Langlais, C and Marsland, SJ and Wittenberg, AT and Holbrook, NJ, Effectiveness of the Bjerknes stability index in representing ocean dynamics, Climate Dynamics, 43, (9-10) pp. 2399-2414. ISSN 1432-0894 (2014) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2014 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg

DOI: doi:10.1007/s00382-014-2062-3


The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a naturally occurring coupled phenomenon originating in the tropical Pacific Ocean that relies on ocean–atmosphere feedbacks. The Bjerknes stability index (BJ index), derived from the mixed-layer heat budget, aims to quantify the ENSO feedback process in order to explore the linear stability properties of ENSO. More recently, the BJ index has been used for model intercomparisons, particularly for the CMIP3 and CMIP5 models. This study investigates the effectiveness of the BJ index in representing the key ENSO ocean feedbacks—namely the thermocline, zonal advective, and Ekman feedbacks—by evaluating the amplitudes and phases of the BJ index terms against the corresponding heat budget terms from which they were derived. The output from Australian Community Climate and Earth System Simulator Ocean Model (a global ocean/sea ice flux-forced model) is used to calculate the heat budget in the equatorial Pacific. Through the model evaluation process, the robustness of the BJ index terms are tested. We find that the BJ index overestimates the relative importance of the thermocline feedback to the zonal advective feedback when compared with the corresponding terms from the heat budget equation. The assumption of linearity between variables in the BJ index formulation is the primary reason for these differences. Our results imply that a model intercomparison relying on the BJ index to explain ENSO behavior is not necessarily an accurate quantification of dynamical differences between models that are inherently nonlinear. For these reasons, the BJ index may not fully explain underpinning changes in ENSO under global warming scenarios.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:ENSO, El Nino - Southern Oscillation, Bjerknes stability index, climate variability, feedbacks
Research Division:Earth Sciences
Research Group:Oceanography
Research Field:Physical oceanography
Objective Division:Environmental Policy, Climate Change and Natural Hazards
Objective Group:Understanding climate change
Objective Field:Climate variability (excl. social impacts)
UTAS Author:Graham, FS (Dr Felicity McCormack)
UTAS Author:Holbrook, NJ (Professor Neil Holbrook)
ID Code:88909
Year Published:2014
Web of Science® Times Cited:36
Deposited By:IMAS Research and Education Centre
Deposited On:2014-02-19
Last Modified:2017-11-01

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