Ocean Circulation Signatures of North Pacific Decadal Variability

Robert C.J. Wills, David S. Battisti, Cristian Proistosescu, Lu Anne Thompson, Dennis L. Hartmann, Kyle C. Armour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is the dominant pattern of observed sea surface temperature variability in the North Pacific. Its characteristic pattern of eastern intensified warming and cooling within the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension is pervasive across timescales. We investigate the mechanisms for its decadal persistence in coupled climate models, focusing on the role of ocean circulation changes. We use low-frequency component analysis to isolate the mechanisms relevant at decadal and longer timescales from those acting at shorter timescales. The PDO warm phase is associated with strengthening and expansion of the North Pacific subpolar gyre in response to a deepening of the Aleutian Low. The subpolar gyre takes several years to respond to wind stress forcing through baroclinic ocean Rossby wave adjustment, such that white noise atmospheric forcing is integrated into red noise, increasing variability at long timescales. Sea level anomalies within the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension provide an observable ocean circulation signature of North Pacific decadal variability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1690-1701
Number of pages12
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 16 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Pacific Decadal Oscillation
  • atmosphere-ocean coupling
  • climate dynamics
  • climate variability
  • ocean gyre circulation
  • sea level

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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