The El Niño–southern oscillation and Antarctica

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Abstract

This paper reviews our understanding of how the effects of the El Niño–southern oscillation (ENSO) might be transmitted from the tropical Pacific Ocean to the Antarctic, and examines the evidence for such signals in the Antarctic meteorological, sea ice, ice core and biological records. Many scientific disciples concerned with the Antarctic require an understanding of how the climatic conditions in the tropical and mid-latitude regions affect the Antarctic, and it is hoped that this review will aid their work.

The most pronounced signals of ENSO are found over the southeast Pacific as a result of a climatological Rossby wave train that gives positive (negative) height anomalies over the Amundsen–Bellingshausen Sea during El Niño (La Niña) events. However, the extra-tropical signature can sometimes show a high degree of variability between events in this area. In West Antarctica, links between ENSO and precipitation have shown variability on the decadal time scale. Across the continent itself, it is even more difficult to relate meteorological conditions to ENSO, yet analyses of the long meteorological records from the stations do indicate a distinct switch in sign of the pressure anomalies from positive to negative across the minimum in the southern oscillation index.

The oceanic signals of ENSO around the Antarctic are less clear, but it has been suggested that the Antarctic circumpolar wave could be forced by the phenomenon.

Ice-core data offer the potential to help in understanding the long-term relationship between ENSO and the climate of the Antarctic, but there are difficulties because of the need to smooth the ice-core data to overcome the mixing of snow on the surface. Nevertheless, analysis of methylsulphonic acid in a South Pole core has shown high variability on ENSO time scales.

It is clear that some evidence of ENSO can be found in the Antarctic meteorological and ice-core records; however, many of the relationships tend not to be stable with time, and we currently have a poor understanding of the transfer functions by which such signals arrive at the Antarctic from the tropical Pacific. Copyright © 2004 Royal Meteorological Society

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