Impacts of a Pinatubo-size volcanic eruption on ENSO

Evgeniya Predybaylo, Georgiy L. Stenchikov, Andrew T. Wittenberg, Fanrong Zeng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Observations and model simulations of the climate responses to strong explosive low-latitude volcanic eruptions suggest a significant increase in the likelihood of El Niño during the eruption and posteruption years, though model results have been inconclusive and have varied in magnitude and even sign. In this study, we test how this spread of responses depends on the initial phase of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in the eruption year and on the eruption's seasonal timing. We employ the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory CM2.1 global coupled general circulation model to investigate the impact of the Pinatubo 1991 eruption, assuming that in 1991 ENSO would otherwise be in central or eastern Pacific El Niño, La Niña, or neutral phases. We obtain statistically significant El Niño responses in a year after the eruption for all cases except La Niña, which shows no response in the eastern equatorial Pacific. The eruption has a weaker impact on eastern Pacific El Niños than on central Pacific El Niños. We find that the ocean dynamical thermostat and (to a lesser extent) wind changes due to land-ocean temperature gradients are the main feedbacks affecting El Niño development after the eruption. The El Niño responses to eruptions occurring in summer are more pronounced than for winter and spring eruptions. That the climate response depends on eruption season and initial ENSO phase may help to reconcile apparent inconsistencies among previous studies.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)925-947
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 30 2017

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledgements: We thank Hans-F. Graf, Alan Robock, and Jim Carton for valuable discussions. The research reported in this publication was supported by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. In particular, for computer time, the resources of the KAUST Supercomputing Laboratory were used, in addition to those of NOAA GFDL. The simulation results and supporting data sets are available from the corresponding author upon request. NOAA ERSST V4 data are provided by the NOAA/OAR/ESRL PSD, Boulder, Colorado, USA, from their Web site at


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