Pacific Decadal Climate Variability and Dynamics


Tropical and extratropical Pacific decadal climate variability substantially impact physical and biological systems in the Pacific Ocean and strongly influence global climate through teleconnection patterns. The prevailing paradigm of Pacific decadal variability centers around three key modes of variability in the atmosphere and ocean: the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the Aleutian Low (AL), and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). However, that paradigm is now shifting based on recent works, including work done by Furtado and other collaborators. In particular, secondary modes of tropical and extratropical variability in the Pacific basin are emerging as important: the Central Pacific Warming (CPW) / Central Pacific El Niño phenomenon, the North Pacific Oscillation (NPO), and the North Pacific Gyre Oscillation (NPGO). The interplay between these modes of variability is inherently important to consider when looking at teleconnections, mechanisms at work in the ocean and atmosphere, and projections of future climate, especially in the Pacific basin.

Tied to this interannual and decadal variability are the Meridional Modes, coupled ocean-atmospheric modes of variability that allow the extratropical atmosphere to influence and “talk to” the tropical Pacific. Research on these meridional modes first began as an avenue to identify favorable precursor patterns to individual ENSO events. However, with time, their importance in modulation of decadal Pacific variability is becoming more apparent.

The Applied Climate Dynamics Research Group at the University of Oklahoma and collaborators are exploring new modes of variability and seeking to interlink those both dynamically and in the context of recent and future climate change. This work involves both observational work, evaluating coupled model output (e.g., CMIP5 and CMIP6), and running intermediately-complex modeling experiments. Some recent and future avenues of work are:

  • Examining the role that the Pacific Meridional Mode have on initiation of different flavors of ENSO and their inherent long-term variability.
  • Exploring the role that the South Pacific may play in Pacific decadal climate dynamics and variability.
  • Linking variability in the North Pacific Oscillation to winter weather across North America.
  • Investigating the Pacific Decadal Precession, a long-lasting mode of variability inherently tied to long-term precipitation trends in Western and Central North America and with possible sources of excitation in the tropical Pacific.

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© 2023 Jason C. Furtado