Atmospheric torques and Earth's rotation: what drove the millisecond-level length-of-day response to the 2015–2016 El Niño?
- 1SYRTE, Observatoire de Paris, PSL Research University, CNRS, Sorbonne Universités, UPMC Univ. Paris 06, LNE, Paris, France
- 2Independent Researcher, Santa Monica, California, USA
- 3Littoral, Environnement et Sociétés (LIENSs), Université de La Rochelle and CNRS – UMR7266, La Rochelle, France
Abstract. El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events are classically associated with a significant increase in the length of day (LOD), with positive mountain torques arising from an east–west pressure dipole in the Pacific driving a rise of atmospheric angular momentum (AAM) and consequent slowing of the Earth's rotation. The large 1982–1983 event produced a lengthening of the day of about 0.9 ms, while a major ENSO event during the 2015–2016 winter season produced an LOD excursion reaching 0.81 ms in January 2016. By evaluating the anomaly in mountain and friction torques, we found that (i) as a mixed eastern–central Pacific event, the 2015–2016 mountain torque was smaller than for the 1982–1983 and 1997–1998 events, which were pure eastern Pacific events, and (ii) the smaller mountain torque was compensated for by positive friction torques arising from an enhanced Hadley-type circulation in the eastern Pacific, leading to similar AAM–LOD signatures for all three extreme ENSO events. The 2015–2016 event thus contradicts the existing paradigm that mountain torques cause the Earth rotation response for extreme El Niño events.