Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Central Pacific El Niño and decadal climate change in the North Pacific Ocean


Decadal fluctuations of the ocean and atmosphere over the North Pacific Ocean significantly affect the weather and climate of North America and Eurasia. They also cause transitions between different states of marine ecosystems across the Pacific Ocean1,2,3. An important fraction of North Pacific low-frequency variability is linked to the North Pacific Gyre Oscillation4, a climate pattern associated with decadal fluctuations of the ocean circulation. Decadal variations in the North Pacific Gyre Oscillation are characterized by a pattern of sea surface temperature anomalies that resemble the central Pacific El Niño, a dominant mode of interannual variability with far-reaching effects on global climate patterns5,6,7. Here we use an ensemble of simulations with a coupled ocean–atmosphere model to show that the sea surface temperature anomalies associated with central Pacific El Niño force changes in the extra-tropical atmospheric circulation. These changes in turn drive the decadal fluctuations of the North Pacific Gyre Oscillation. Given that central Pacific El Niño events could become more frequent with increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere8, we infer that the North Pacific Gyre Oscillation may play an increasingly important role in shaping Pacific climate and marine ecosystems in the twenty-first century.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Spatial structure of SST anomalies of the CPW El Niño and the NPGO.
Figure 2: The atmospheric forcing of the NPGO.
Figure 3: Tropical Pacific SST anomaly forcing pattern for the AGCM–ML SLPHI.
Figure 4: Reconstruction of NPGO variance originating from the tropical Pacific.


  1. Hare, S. R. et al. Inverse production regimes: Alaska and West Coast Pacific salmon. Fisheries 24, 6–14 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Mantua, N., Hare, S., Zhang, Y., Wallace, J. & Francis, R. A Pacific interdecadal climate oscillation with impacts on salmon production. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 78, 1069–1079 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Martinez, E., Antoine, D., D’Ortenzio, F. & Gentili, B. Climate-driven basin-scale decadal oscillations of oceanic phytoplankton. Science 326, 1253–1256 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Di Lorenzo, E. et al. North Pacific Gyre Oscillation links ocean climate and ecosystem change. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L08607 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Larkin, N. & Harrison, D. Global seasonal temperature and precipitation anomalies during El Niño autumn and winter. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, L16705 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Ashok, K. & Yamagata, T. Climate change: The El Niño with a difference. Nature 461, 481–484 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Kug, J., Jin, F. & An, S. Two types of El Niño Events: Cold tongue El Niño and warm pool El Niño. J. Clim. 22, 1499–1515 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Yeh, S-W. et al. El Niño in a changing climate. Nature 461, 511-U70 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Di Lorenzo, E. et al. Nutrient and salinity decadal variations in the central and eastern North Pacific. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L14601 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Chhak, K. C., Di Lorenzo, E., Schneider, N. & Cummins, P. F. Forcing of low-frequency ocean variability in the northeast Pacific. J. Clim. 22, 1255–1276 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Ceballos, L. I., Di Lorenzo, E., Hoyos, C. D., Schneider, N. & Taguchi, B. North Pacific gyre oscillation synchronizes climate fluctuations in the eastern and western boundary systems. J. Clim. 22, 5163–5174 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Alexander, M. et al. The atmospheric bridge: The influence of ENSO teleconnections on air–sea interaction over the global oceans. J. Clim. 15, 2205–2231 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Vimont, D. The contribution of the interannual ENSO cycle to the spatial pattern of decadal ENSO-like variability. J. Clim. 18, 2080–2092 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Newman, M., Compo, G. & Alexander, M. ENSO-forced variability of the Pacific decadal oscillation. J. Clim. 16, 3853–3857 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Sydeman, W. J. & Thompson, M. A. The California Current Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (IEA), Module II: Trends and Variability in Climate-Ecosystem State. Report to NOAA/NMFS/Environmental Research Division (2010).

  16. Kim, H., Webster, P. & Curry, J. Impact of shifting patterns of Pacific Ocean warming on north Atlantic tropical cyclones, 325 77–80 (2009).

  17. Weng, H., Behera, S. K. & Yamagata, T. Anomalous winter climate conditions in the Pacific rim during recent El Niño Modoki and El Niño events. Clim. Dyn. 32, 663–674 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Hoerling, M. & Kumar, A. Atmospheric response patterns associated with tropical forcing. J. Clim. 15, 2184–2203 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Frankignoul, C. & Hasselmann, K. Stochastic climate models. Part II: Application to sea surface temperature anomalies and thermocline variability. Tellus 29, 289–305 (1977).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Rogers, J. The North Pacific Oscillation. J. Climatol. 1, 39–57 (1981).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Bracco, A., Kucharski, F., Kallummal, R. & Molteni, F. Internal variability, external forcing and climate trends in multi-decadal AGCM ensembles. Clim. Dyn. 23, 659–678 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Pierce, D., Barnett, T. & Latif, M. Connections between the Pacific Ocean tropics and midlatitudes on decadal timescales. J. Clim. 13, 1173–1194 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Deser, C., Phillips, A. & Hurrell, J. Pacific interdecadal climate variability: Linkages between the tropics and the North Pacific during boreal winter since 1900. J. Clim. 17, 3109–3124 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Menge, B. M., Chan, F., Nielsen, K. J., Di Lorenzo, E. & Lubchenco, J. Climatic variation alters supply-side ecology: Impact of climate patterns on phytoplankton and mussel recruitment. Ecol. Monogr. 79, 379–395 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Collins, M. et al. The impact of global warming on the tropical Pacific ocean and El Niño. Nature Geosci. 3, 391–397 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Kalnay, E. et al. The NCEP/NCAR 40-year reanalysis project. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 77, 437–471 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Smith, T. M. & Reynolds, R. Improved extended reconstruction of SST (1854–1997). J. Clim. 17, 2466–2477 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Sasaki, H. et al. in High Resolution Numerical Modelling of the Atmosphere and Ocean (eds Hamilton, K. & Ohfuchi, W.) Ch. 10, 157–186 (Springer, 2008).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  29. Allan, R. & Ansell, T. A new globally complete monthly historical gridded mean sea level pressure dataset (HadSLP2): 1850–2004. J. Clim. 19, 5816–5842 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We acknowledge the support of the NSF OCE-0550266, GLOBEC-0606575, OCE-0452654, OCE-0452692, CCS-LTER, GLOBEC OCE-0815280, OCE05-50233, NASA NNG05GC98G, Office of Science (BER), DOE DE-FG02-07ER64469 and JAMSTEC.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



E.D.L. and N.S. carried out the analysis. E.D.L., K.M.C., N.S. and B.A. contributed to the writing of the paper. A.B. and J.C.F. contributed to the coupled ocean–atmosphere model. M.A.A. and D.V. contributed to the experimental design and analysis of the atmospheric teleconnection patterns. All authors discussed and commented on the layout and the results of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to E. Di Lorenzo.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 610 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Di Lorenzo, E., Cobb, K., Furtado, J. et al. Central Pacific El Niño and decadal climate change in the North Pacific Ocean. Nature Geosci 3, 762–765 (2010).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing