Impacts of a Pinatubo-size volcanic eruption on ENSO
The response of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) to tropical volcanic eruptions has important worldwide implications, but remains poorly constrained. Paleoclimate records suggest an "El Niño-like" warming 1 year following major eruptions [Adams JB, Mann ME, Ammann CM (2003) Nature 426:274-278] and "La Niña-like" cooling within the eruption year [Li J, et al. (2013) Nat Clim Chang 3:822-826]. However, climate models currently cannot capture all these responses. Many eruption characteristics are poorly constrained, which may contribute to uncertainties in model solutions-for example, the season of eruption occurrence is often unknown and assigned arbitrarily. Here we isolate the effect of eruption season using experiments with the Community Earth System Model (CESM), varying the starting month of two large tropical eruptions. The eruption-year atmospheric circulation response is strongly seasonally dependent, with effects on European winter warming, the Intertropical Convergence Zone, and the southeast Asian monsoon. This creates substantial variations in eruption-year hydroclimate patterns, which do sometimes exhibit La Niña-like features as in the proxy record. However, eruption-year equatorial Pacific cooling is not driven by La Niña dynamics, but strictly by transient radiative cooling. In contrast, equatorial warming the following year occurs for all starting months and operates dynamically like El Niño. Proxy reconstructions confirm these results: eruption-year cooling is insignificant, whereas warming in the following year is more robust. This implies that accounting for the event season may be necessary to describe the initial response to volcanic eruptions and that climate models may be more accurately simulating volcanic influences than previously thought.