The forcing of the Pacific decadal oscillation

Schneider, N, Cornuelle BD.  2005.  The forcing of the Pacific decadal oscillation. Journal of Climate. 18:4355-4373.

Date Published:



atmospheric bridge, climate variability, el-nino, enso teleconnections, heat-flux, interdecadal variability, ocean, sea-surface temperature, sst anomalies, western north-america


The Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO), defined as the leading empirical orthogonal function of North Pacific sea surface temperature anomalies, is a widely used index for decadal variability. It is shown that the PDO can be recovered from a reconstruction of North Pacific sea surface temperature anomalies based on a first-order autoregressive model and forcing by variability of the Aleutian low, El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and oceanic zonal advection anomalies in the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension. The latter results from oceanic Rossby waves that are forced by North Pacific Ekman pumping. The SST response patterns to these processes are not orthogonal, and they determine the spatial characteristics of the PDO. The importance of the different forcing, processes is frequency dependent. At interannual time scales, forcing from ENSO and the Aleutian low determines the response in equal parts. At decadal time scales, zonal advection in the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension, ENSO, and anomalies of the Aleutian low each account for similar amounts of the PDO variance. These, results support the hypothesis that the PDO is not a dynamical mode, but arises from the superposition of sea surface temperature fluctuations with different dynamical origins.