Cold Tongue and Warm Pool ENSO Events in CMIP5: Mean State and Future Projections Academic Article uri icon


  • The representation of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) under historical forcing and future projections is analyzed in 34 models from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 (CMIP5). Most models realistically simulate the observed intensity and location of maximum sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies during ENSO events. However, there exist systematic biases in the westward extent of ENSO-related SST anomalies, driven by unrealistic westward displacement and enhancement of the equatorial wind stress in the western Pacific. Almost all CMIP5 models capture the observed asymmetry in magnitude between the warm and cold events (i.e., El Niños are stronger than La Niñas) and between the two types of El Niños: that is, cold tongue (CT) El Niños are stronger than warm pool (WP) El Niños. However, most models fail to reproduce the asymmetry between the two types of La Niñas, with CT stronger than WP events, which is opposite to observations. Most models capture the observed peak in ENSO amplitude around December; however, the seasonal evolution of ENSO has a large range of behavior across the models. The CMIP5 models generally reproduce the duration of CT El Niños but have biases in the evolution of the other types of events. The evolution of WP El Niños suggests that the decay of this event occurs through heat content discharge in the models rather than the advection of SST via anomalous zonal currents, as seems to occur in observations. No consistent changes are seen across the models in the location and magnitude of maximum SST anomalies, frequency, or temporal evolution of these events in a warmer world.

publication date

  • April 2014