ENSO Change in Climate Projections: Forced Response or Internal Variability?

N. Maher*, D. Matei, S. Milinski, J. Marotzke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Citations (Scopus)


Two large ensembles are used to quantify the extent to which internal variability can contribute to long-term changes in El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) characteristics. We diagnose changes that are externally forced and distinguish between multi-model simulation results that differ by chance and those that differ due to different model physics. The range of simulated ENSO amplitude changes in the large ensemble historical simulations encompasses 90% of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 historical simulations and 80% of moderate (RCP4.5) and strong (RCP8.5) warming scenarios. When considering projected ENSO pattern changes, model differences are also important. We find that ENSO has high internal variability and that single realizations of a model can produce very different results to the ensemble mean response. Due to this variability, 30–40 ensemble members of a single model are needed to robustly compute absolute ENSO variance to a 10% error when 30-year analysis periods are used.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11,390-11,398
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2018
Externally publishedYes


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