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Keywords:

  • ENSO;
  • middle atmosphere;
  • general circulation models

[1] The vertical propagation of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) temperature signal has been analyzed in two general circulation models, the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model and the Middle Atmosphere European Center–Hamburg Model, and in the ERA-40 reanalysis data set. Monthly mean data have been used, and composite differences (El Niño–La Niña) have been computed. Our results show that the ENSO signal propagates into the middle atmosphere by means of planetary Rossby waves. Significant wave-like anomalies are observed up to around 40 km. This propagation is strongly influenced by the zonal mean zonal winds, being most effective in midlatitudes of the Northern Hemisphere because ENSO events tend to peak in northern winter, when stratospheric winds are westerly in the Northern Hemisphere, and allow vertical propagation of Rossby waves. In addition, zonal mean temperature anomalies are observed in the middle atmosphere in the tropics and at polar latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. These anomalies are the result of changes in the residual mean meridional circulation: Our analysis reveals that during an El Niño event, vertical wave propagation and divergence of Eliassen-Palm flux are enhanced, forcing a stronger residual circulation in the stratosphere, which cools the tropics and warms the higher latitudes. This pattern is highly significant in the models during certain months but much less in the ERA-40 data, where other sources of variability (in particular the quasi-biennial oscillation) also influence the residual circulation.