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The Atlantic sibling: a reconciling vision on the nature of El Niño’s ‘Little Brother’
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  • Gian Luca Eusebi Borzelli,
  • Sandro Carniel,
  • Cosimo Enrico Carniel,
  • Aniello Russo
Gian Luca Eusebi Borzelli
Center for Remote Sensing of the Earth

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Sandro Carniel
NATO STO-CMRE-Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation
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Cosimo Enrico Carniel
ETH Zurich
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Aniello Russo
NATO STO-CMRE-Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation
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Abstract

The Atlantic Niño is an important source of the year-to-year variability of the tropical Atlantic, consisting in an irregular oscillation of the Sea Surface Temperature (SST) in the eastern tropical Atlantic. The physical mechanism underlying this oscillation is topic of debate. Some theories, known as dynamical, suggest that the Atlantic Niño is driven by internal wave dynamics. Other theories, termed thermodynamic, propose that the eastern tropical Atlantic SST variability is caused by thermodynamic processes associated with heat fluxes at the ocean surface and/or heat transport by oceanic currents. Here, we examine the SST variability from 1940 to 2022 and find that it can be described in terms of two spatial modes: one in the central and the other in eastern tropical Atlantic. However, focusing on the period from 1993 to 2022, these patterns behave differently. In 1993-2009 they concur in determining the eastern tropical Atlantic SST variability, while in 2010-2022 they act in opposite direction. Therefore, we use Sea Surface Height data and heat fluxes advected by oceanic currents to explore the relative contribution of wave dynamics and heat advection to the eastern tropical Atlantic SST fluctuation. We show that, between 1993 and 2010, the eastern tropical Atlantic SST variability is mainly determined by heat advected from the south by horizontal currents, while between 2010-2022 it can be explained in terms of wave dynamics. This finding suggests that the two spatial patterns determining the eastern tropical Atlantic SST variability, are two distinct physical phenomena forced by different physical mechanisms.