Cloud radiative feedbacks and El Niño-Southern Oscillation

Eleanor A. Middlemas, Amy C. Clement, Brian Medeiros, Ben Kirtman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Cloud radiative feedbacks are disabled via "cloud-locking" in the Community Earth System Model, version 1.2 (CESM1.2), to result in a shift in El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) periodicity from 2-7 years to decadal time scales. We hypothesize that cloud radiative feedbacks may impact the periodicity in three ways: by 1) modulating heat flux locally into the equatorial Pacific subsurface through negative shortwave cloud feedback on sea surface temperature anomalies (SSTA), 2) damping the persistence of subtropical southeast Pacific SSTA such that the South Pacific meridional mode impacts the duration of ENSO events, or 3) controlling the meridional width of off-equatorial westerly winds, which impacts the periodicity of ENSO by initiating longer Rossby waves. The result of cloud-locking in CESM1.2 contrasts that of another study, which found that cloud-locking in a different global climate model led to decreased ENSO magnitude across all time scales due to a lack of positive longwave feedback on the anomalous Walker circulation. CESM1.2 contains this positive longwave feedback on the anomalous Walker circulation, but either its influence on the surface is decoupled from ocean dynamics or the feedback is only active on interannual time scales. The roles of cloud radiative feedbacks in ENSO in other global climate models are additionally considered. In particular, it is shown that one cannot predict the role of cloud radiative feedbacks in ENSO through a multimodel diagnostic analysis. Instead, they must be directly altered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4661-4680
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number15
StatePublished - 2019


  • Cloud radiative effects
  • Convection
  • ENSO
  • Tropics
  • Walker circulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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