Julien Emile-Geay - Colloquium Talk Abstract

Holocene constraints on simulated tropical Pacific climate
 
The El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) influences climate and weather worldwide, so uncertainties in its response to external forcings contribute to the spread in global climate projections. Theoretical and modeling studies have argued that such forcings may affect ENSO either via the seasonal cycle, the mean state, or extratropical influences, but these mechanisms are poorly constrained by the short instrumental record. Here we synthesize a pan-Pacific network of high-resolution marine biocarbonates spanning discrete snapshots of the Holocene (past ∼10,000 years), which we use to evaluate a set of global climate model (GCM) simulations via a forward model and a consistent treatment of uncertainty. Observations suggest important reductions in ENSO variability throughout the interval, most consistently during 3-5 kyBP, when ∼2/3 reductions are inferred. The magnitude and timing of these ENSO variance reductions bear little resemblance to those simulated by GCMs, or to equatorial insolation. The central Pacific witnessed a mid-Holocene increase in seasonality, at odds with the reductions simulated by GCMs. Finally, while GCM aggregate behavior shows a clear inverse relationship between seasonal amplitude and ENSO-band variance in sea-surface temperature, such a relationship is not borne out by these observations. Our synthesis suggests that tropical Pacific climate is highly variable, but exhibited millennia-long periods of reduced ENSO variability whose origins, whether forced or unforced, contradict existing explanations. It also points to deficiencies in the ability of current GCMs to simulate forced changes in the tropical Pacific seasonal cycle and its interaction with ENSO, highlighting a key area of growth for future modeling efforts.