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An outstanding problem in ENSO research is the lack of understanding and predictive skill of the sea surface temperature anomaly (SSTA) in the western Pacific warm pool, a region of strong impact on global climate variability. In part, this is due to the relatively weaker SSTA signal and thus the larger noise-to-signal ratio within the warm pool. But more importantly, we think this is because of the dominant roles of surface heat and fresh water fluxes, and the associated surface-layer dynamic and thermodynamic processes, in determining the SSTA there. These fluxes and processes are largely overlooked in ENSO theories and are misrepresented in various ENSO models. Interannual variabilities of surface heat and freshwater fluxes are completely ignored in intermediate coupled models and are not well simulated in coupled general circulation models. The moderate success of these models is mostly based on their ability to simulate equatorial wave dynamics, which has a dominant influence on the SSTA in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. In the west, however, SSTA is decoupled from the deep thermocline there and is mostly controlled by surface-layer processes. Any attempts to capture these processes will have to rely on a good representation of surface fluxes and a realistic simulation of the oceanic surface mixed layer. Multi-sensor satellite observations are particularly useful for analyzing the feedbacks at the air-sea interface. When combined with in-situ data and numerical models, they will help to reveal the physical processes that are responsible for the SST variability in the western Pacific warm pool. The goals of the proposed research are to investigate ENSO-related variability in the western Pacific, with emphasis on the surface layer dynamic and thermodynamic process, and to improve ENSO prediction, especially in the warm pool region. We will achieve our objectives through a combination of data analyses and model experiments. In particular, we will: 1) identify the dominant modes and the interrelations of anomalous surface fluxes and SST by systematically analyzing observational datasets that include multi-sensor satellite measurements; 2) evaluate the upper ocean response to the anomalous surface fluxes by analyzing in-situ observations and forced ocean model outputs; 3) investigate the thermodynamic ocean-atmosphere coupling in ENSO using a hybrid coupled model that pays special attention to the surface fluxes and the oceanic mixed layer; and 4) use the coupled model for experimental ENSO forecasting. This proposal addresses the primary thrust of the physical oceanography program at NASA, "understanding the ocean's role in climate variability and its prediction", and is highly relevant to both of the priority research themes identified in the present NRA, "analysis and interpretation of the ocean circulation using satellite and in situ data", and "understanding and estimation of sea surface temperature".

Project PI: Dake Chen/Columbia University

106B Oceanography PO Box 1000 / 61 Route 9W Palisades, NY 10964-8000

Phone: 845 365-8496

Fax: 845 365-8736

Email: dchen@ldeo.columbia.edu

http://rainbow.ldeo.columbia.edu/people/chen/

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Started: Aug 10, 2010

Last Activity: Dec 16, 2010

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