This post provides brief background information about the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension (KOE), and discusses the relationship between NINO3.4 SST anomalies and the SST anomalies of the KOE following major El Niño events. Using correlation maps the post also illustrates the possible impacts of the KOE Sea Surface Temperature (SST) anomalies on North Atlantic SST anomalies, Combined Land and Ocean Surface Temperature anomalies, and Lower Troposphere Temperature anomalies.
The Kuroshio Current and Oyashio Current are located in the western North Pacific Ocean. The Kuroshio Current is the western boundary current of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Its counterpart in the North Atlantic Ocean is the well-known Gulf Stream. The Kuroshio Current carries warm tropical waters northward from the North Equatorial Current to the east coast of Japan. The East Kamchatka Current and the Oyashio Current are the western boundary currents of the Western Subarctic Gyre. The East Kamchatka Current is renamed the Oyashio Current south of the Bussol Strait (which is located about half way between Hokkaido and the Kamchatka Peninsula). They carry cold subarctic waters south to the east coast of Japan. The Kuroshio and Oyashio currents meet and form the North Pacific Current that runs from west to east across the North Pacific at mid latitudes. The Qiu, (2001) paper Kuroshio and Oyashio Currents. In Encyclopedia of Ocean Sciences, (Academic Press, pp. 1413-1425) provides a detailed but easily readable description of the two currents. Figure 1, from Qiu (2001), illustrates the general locations and paths of the Kuroshio and Oyashio Currents.
As noted above, the Kuroshio and Oyashio Currents collide East of Japan and form the western portion of the North Pacific Current. These waters are often referred to as the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension or the KOE. For the purpose of this post, I’ve used the coordinates of 30N-45N, 150E-150W for the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension, Figure 2.
CORRELATION WITH NORTHERN HEMISPHERE TEMPERATURES
Sea Surface Temperature (SST) anomalies for much of the North Atlantic warm (cool) when the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension SST anomalies warm (cool). This can be seen in the correlation map of annual (January to December) Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension SST anomalies and annual North Atlantic SST anomalies, Figure 3.
And, as shown in Figures 4 (RSS) and 5 (UAH), annual TLT anomalies for much of the Northern Hemisphere correlate with the annual SST anomalies of the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension.
The same thing holds true for combined land plus sea surface temperature datasets such as the GISS Land-Ocean Temperature Index (LOTI) data for the Northern Hemisphere, Figure 6. Much of the Northern Hemisphere GISS LOTI data warms (cools) as KOE SST anomalies warm (cool). (Also note the differences in the North Atlantic correlations in Figures 3 and 6. They’re based on the same SST dataset, so why are there differences? GISS deletes SST data from areas with seasonal sea ice and extends land surface data out over the oceans with its 1200km radius smoothing. Refer to GISS Deletes Arctic And Southern Ocean Sea Surface Temperature Data.)
WHEN DOES THE KOE WARM?
As we’ve seen in past posts, the East Indian and West Pacific Oceans warm in response to El Niño events and then during the subsequent La Nina events. As part of the East Indian-West Pacific subset, the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension warms significantly during La Niña events. Animation 1 is taken from the videos in the post La Niña Is Not The Opposite Of El Niño – The Videos. It presents the 1997/98 El Niño followed by the 1998 through 2001 La Niña. Each map represents the average SST anomalies for a 12-month period and is followed by the next 12-month period in sequence. Using 12-month averages eliminates the seasonal and weather noise. The effect is similar to smoothing data in a time-series graph with a 12-month running-average filter. Note how the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension warms significantly during the La Niña event and how the warming persists for the entire term of the La Niña.
Note in Animation 1 that the SST anomalies of the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension were cool during the 1997/98 El Niño. The KOE actually started with depressed SST anomalies, and they did not drop significantly during the 1997/98 El Niño. Refer to Figure 7. On the other hand, the KOE SST anomalies did rise significantly during the transition from the El Niño to the La Niña in 1998. The other major El Niño event that wasn’t impacted by the aerosols of an explosive volcanic eruption was the 1986/87/88 event. The SST anomalies of the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension cooled during the 1986/87/88 El Niño, but also rose significantly during the 1988/89 La Nina. We’ll take a closer look at that event later in the post.
This response of the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension to El Niño and La Niña events is easier to see if the NINO3.4 SST anomalies are inverted, Figure 8. That is, the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension warms much more during the 1998/99/00/01 La Niña event than it cools during the 1997/98 El Niño. But could the significant drop in the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension during the 1986/87/88 El Niño impact the global response to that El Niño? Again, we’ll examine that later in the post.
WHY DOES THE KOE WARM DURING LA NIÑA EVENTS?
Let’s start with the El Niño. During an El Niño event, a significant volume of warm water from the west Pacific Warm Pool travels east to the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, where it releases heat primarily through evaporation. And most of the warm water from the Pacific Warm Pool water comes from below the surface. There is “leftover” warm water when the La Niña forms, and a portion of this leftover warm water is returned to the western tropical Pacific at approximately 10 deg N latitude. Video 1 illustrates global Sea Level Residuals from January 1998 to June 2001. It captures the 1998/99/00/01 La Niña in its entirety. The video was taken from the JPL video “tpglobal.mpeg”. The phenomenon shown carrying warm waters from east to west in the tropical Pacific at approximately 10 deg N is called a slow-moving Rossby Wave.
Link to Video 1:
Unfortunately, the video “tpglobal.mpeg” is no longer available at the JPL VIDEOS web page, but for those who would like to watch the entire video, I uploaded it to YouTube as Sea Surface Height Animation 1992 to 2002 – JPL Video tpglobal.mpg.
In Video 1, the warm “leftover” warm water from the 1997/98 El Niño is clearly carried as far west as the Philippines. Shortly thereafter Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension sea level residuals rise and remain elevated for the duration of the La Niña.
In addition, there are other factors that add to and maintain the elevated SST anomalies in the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension during the La Niña. As shown in Animation 1 (the gif animation, not the video), Sea Surface Temperature anomalies outside of the tropical Pacific rise in response to the El Niño. The changes occur first in the Atlantic, then Indian, and finally the west Pacific. Sea Surface Temperature anomalies rise as changes in atmospheric circulation caused by the El Niño make their way eastward around the globe to the western Pacific. Then, during the La Niña, the opposite occurs for much of the globe. But in the tropical Pacific, the trade winds strengthen and the North and South Equatorial Currents return warm “leftover” surface waters from the El Niño to the west. So the western Pacific is warmed cumulatively by the El Niño and then by the La Niña. In the northwest Pacific, the Kuroshio Current carries the leftover warm water up to the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension.
Additionally, the increased strength of the trade winds during the La Niña also reduces cloud cover over the tropical Pacific, which increases the amount of Downward Shortwave Radiation (visible light) there. The increased Downward Shortwave Radiation warms the tropical Pacific. The warmed water is carried to the west by the Equatorial Currents and the North Pacific Gyre spins the warmed water up to the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
In the post “RSS MSU TLT Time-Latitude Plots…Show Climate Responses That Cannot Be Easily Illustrated With Time-Series Graphs Alone”, I illustrated that the RSS Lower Troposphere Temperature (TLT) anomalies of Southern Hemisphere and of the Tropics (70S-20N) followed the basic variations in NINO3.4 SST anomalies, Figure 9. This is how one would expect TLT anomalies to respond to El Niño and La Niña events. El Niño events cause the TLT anomalies to rise because they release more heat than normal to the atmosphere, and La Niña events cause TLT anomalies to fall because the tropical Pacific is releasing less heat than normal.
But the TLT anomalies of the Northern Hemisphere north of 20N, Figure 10, appear to rise in a step after the 1997/98 El Niño. That is, there is very little response to the 1998 through 2001 La Niña. It appears as though a secondary source of heat is maintaining the Northern Hemisphere TLT anomalies at elevated levels.
A similar upward step can be seen in the GISS Land-Ocean Temperature anomaly index (LOTI) for the latitudes of 20N-65N, Figure 11. (North of 65N the GISS data is biased by their deleting Sea Surface Temperature data and replacing it with land surface data with a higher trend. Again, refer to GISS Deletes Arctic And Southern Ocean Sea Surface Temperature Data.)
And a similar upward step is visible in the North Atlantic SST anomaly data, Figure 12.
The North Atlantic SST anomalies, the Lower Troposphere Temperature( TLT) anomalies of the Northern Hemisphere north of 20N, and the Northern Hemisphere Land-Ocean Temperature anomalies (20N-65N) all rise in response to the 1997/98 El Niño, but fail to respond fully to the 1998/99/00/01 La Niña. The similarity of the curves can be seen in Figure 13.
The correlation maps in Figures 3 through 6 show that a portion of the warming of the Northern Hemisphere north of 20N should be a response to the elevated Kuroshio-Oyashio SST anomalies during the 1998 through 2001 La Niña. To further illustrate this relationship, Figure 14 compares the KOE SST anomalies (not scaled) to the three datasets shown in Figure 13. I did not scale the Kuroshio-Oyashio SST anomalies because I wanted to illustrate the differences in the magnitudes of the variations. The variations in Kuroshio-Oyashio SST anomalies are clearly far greater than the variations of the other three datasets in Figure 14. In fact, the KOE SST anomaly variations are about 40% to 50% of the variations in NINO3.4 SST anomalies (refer back to Figures 7 and 8).
Figure 15 presents the same datasets as Figure 14, but in Figure 15, the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension SST anomalies have been scaled. Keep in mind that the three Northern Hemisphere temperature anomaly datasets rise first in response to the El Niño.
It appears the warming of the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension during the 1998/99/00/01 La Niña and its interaction with the other datasets could explain a portion of the trend in Northern Hemisphere SST anomalies, TLT anomalies, and Land-Ocean temperature anomalies since 1995. The warming of the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension during that La Niña counteracts the normal cooling effects of the La Niña and prevents the temperature anomalies for the three datasets shown in Figures 13, 14, and 15 from responding fully to the La Niña.
THE 1986/87/88 EL NIÑO & 1988/89 LA NIÑA
There is a similar effect during the 1988/89 La Niña. That is, Northern Hemisphere temperature anomalies do not drop as one would expect during a La Niña. But the response during the 1986/87/88 El Niño may help to confirm the impact of the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension on Northern Hemisphere temperatures.
Figure 16 compares scaled NINO3.4 SST anomalies for the period of 1985 through 1994 to the same datasets used in Figures 13: North Atlantic SST anomalies, the Lower Troposphere Temperature (TLT) anomalies of the Northern Hemisphere north of 20N, and the GISS Northern Hemisphere Land-Ocean Temperature anomalies (20N-65N). Once again, the Northern Hemisphere datasets rise in response to the El Niño event, but don’t drop in response to the La Niña. Note also that the North Atlantic SST anomalies lag the NINO3.4 SST by more than 6 months during the ramp-up phase, but the lag in the Northern Hemisphere TLT and Surface Temperature datasets is excessive, about 18 months. Why?
Could the dip in the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension SST anomalies during the 1986/87/88 El Niño have counteracted their responses to the El Niño? Refer to Figure 17. It compares Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension SST anomalies (not scaled) to the North Atlantic and Northern Hemisphere datasets. The drop in KOE SST anomalies is significant in 1986/87/88.
And in Figure 18, the Kiroshio-Oyashio SST anomalies have been scaled. The North Atlantic SST anomalies rise in response to the 1986/87/88 El Niño as noted earlier. The timing of the rises in the KOE data and the GISS LOTI data are very similar. But the rise in the TLT anomalies north of 20N precedes the rise in the KOE data. If the dip in KOE SST anomalies were the only factor preventing the TLT anomalies from rising in response to the El Niño, shouldn’t we expect the TLT anomalies to lag the rise in the KOE data? Or are the TLT anomalies responding to the rise in North Atlantic SST anomalies?
If we replace the RSS TLT data with TLT data from UAH, Figure 19, the lag decreases between the North Atlantic SST anomalies and the TLT anomalies north of 20N.
An El Niño event releases vast amounts of warm water from below the surface of the west Pacific Warm Pool. But the end of an El Niño event does not mean all of that warm water suddenly disappears. The warm water sloshes back to the western tropical Pacific during the La Niña. And some of that warm water is spun up into the Kuoshio-Oyashio Extension where it continues to release heat.
Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension SST anomalies rose significantly during the La Niña events of 1988/89 and 1998/99/00/01. These warmings appear to have counteracted the effects of those La Niña events on North Atlantic SST anomalies, and on Lower Troposphere Temperature anomalies north of 20N, and on combined Land-Ocean temperature anomalies of the Northern Hemisphere between the latitudes of 20N-65N. During the 1997/98 El Niño, the drop in Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension SST anomalies was very small and the KOE does not appear to have had a noticeable impact on the effects of that El Niño. On the other hand, the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension SST anomalies did drop significantly during the 1986/87/88 El Niño and they appear to have suppressed the effects of that El Niño on Northern Hemisphere temperature anomalies. But why did the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension SST anomalies drop significantly during the 1986/87/88 El Niño but not during the 1997/98 El Niño? Differences in Sea Level Pressure?
Data for graphs are available through, and the correlation and anomaly maps were downloaded from, the KNMI Climate Explorer: