Combinatorial Tidal Constituents

For the tidal forcing that contributes to length-of-day (LOD) variations [1], only a few factors contribute to a plurality of the variation. These are indicated below by the highlighted circles, where the V0/g amplitude is greatest. The first is the nodal 18.6 year cycle, indicated by the N’ = 1 Doodson argument. The second is the 27.55 day “Mm” anomalistic cycle which is a combination of the perigean 8.85 year cycle (p = -1 Doodson argument) mixed with the 27.32 day tropical cycle (s=1 Doodson argument). The third and strongest is twice the tropical cycle (therefore s=2) nicknamed “Mf”.

Tidal Constituents contributing to dLOD from R.D. Ray [1]

These three factors also combine as the primary input forcing to the ENSO model. Yet, even though they are strongest, the combinatorial factors derived from multiplying these main harmonics are vital for generating a quality fit (both for dLOD and even more so for ENSO). What I have done in the past was apply the recommended mix of first- and second-order factors that appear in the dLOD spectra for the ENSO forcing.

Yet there is another approach that makes no assumption of the strongest 2nd-order factors. In this case, one simply expands the primary factors as a combinatorial expansion of cross-terms to the 4th level — this then generates a broad mix of monthly, fortnightly, 9-day, and weekly harmonic cycles. A nested algorithm to generate the 35 constituent terms is :


Counter := 1;
for J in Constituents'Range loop
 for K in Constituents'First .. J loop 
  for L in Constituents'First .. K loop 
   for M in Constituents'First .. L loop 
      Tf := Tf + Coefficients (Counter) * Fundamental(J) * 
            Fundamental(K) * Fundamental(L) * Fundamental (M); 
      Counter := Counter + 1; 
   end loop; 
  end loop; 
 end loop; 
end loop;

This algorithm requires the three fundamental terms plus one unity term to capture most of the cross-terms shown in Table 3 above (The annual cross-terms are automatic as those are generated by the model’s annual impulse). This transforms into a coefficients array that can be included in the LTE search software.

What is missing from the list are the evection terms corresponding to 31.812 (Msm) and 27.093 day cycles. They are retrograde to the prograde 27.55 day anomalistic cycle, so would need an additional 8.848 year perigee cycle bring the count from 3 fundamental terms to 4.

The difference between adding an extra level of harmonics, bringing the combinatorial total from 35 to 126, is not very apparent when looking at the time series (below), as it simply adds shape to the main fortnightly tropical cycle.

Yet it has a significant effect on the ENSO fit, approaching a CC of 0.95 (see inset at right for the scatter correlation). Note that the forcing frequency spectra in the middle right inset still shows a predominately tropical fortnightly peak at 0.26/yr and 0.74/yr.

These extra harmonics also helps in matching to the much more busy SOI time-series. Click on the chart below to inspect how the higher-K wavenumbers may be the origin of what is thought to be noise in the SOI measurements.

Is this a case of overfitting? Try the following cross-validation on orthogonal intervals, and note how tight the model matches the data to the training intervals, without degrading too much on the outer validation region.

I will likely add this combinatorial expansion approach to the LTE fitting software on GitHub soon, but thought to checkpoint the interim progress on the blog. In the end the likely modeling mix will be a combination of the geophysical calibration to the known dLOD response together with a refined collection of these 2nd-order combinatorial tidal constituents. The rationale for why certain terms are important will eventually become more clear as well.


  1. Ray, R.D. and Erofeeva, S.Y., 2014. Long‐period tidal variations in the length of day. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth119(2), pp.1498-1509.

Length of Day II

This is a continuation from the previous Length of Day post showing how closely the ENSO forcing aligns to the dLOD forcing.

Ding & Chao apply an AR-z technique as a supplement to Fourier and Max Entropy spectral techniques to isolate the tidal factors in dLOD

The red data points are the spectral values used in the ENSO model fit.

The top panel below is the LTE modulated tidal forcing fitted against the ENSO time series. The lower panel below is the tidal forcing model over a short interval overlaid on the dLOD/dt data.

That’s all there is to it — it’s all geophysical fluid dynamics. Essentially the same tidal forcing impacts both the rotating solid earth and the equatorial ocean, but the ocean shows a lagged nonlinear response as described in Chapter 12 of the book. In contrast, the solid earth shows an apparently direct linear inertial response. Bottom line is that if one doesn’t know how to do the proper GFD, one will never be able to fit ENSO to a known forcing.


In Chapter 12 of the book, we presented a math model for the equatorial Pacific ocean dipole known as ENSO (El Nino /Southern Oscillation).  We argued that the higher wavenumber (×15 of the fundamental) characteristic of ENSO was related to the behavior known as Tropical Instability Waves (TIW). Taken together, the fundamental and TIW components provide enough detail to model ENSO at the monthly level. However if we drill deeper, especially with respect to the finer granularity SOI measure of ENSO, there are rather obvious cyclic factors in the 30 to 90 day range that can add even further detail. The remarkable aspect is that these appear to be related to the behavior known as the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO), identified originally as a 40-50 day oscillation in zonal wind [1].

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Implicit Interpolating Cross-Validation of ENSO

In Chapter 12 of the book, we describe the forcing mechanism behind the El Nino / Southern Oscillation (ENSO) behavior and here we continue to evaluate the rich dynamic behavior of the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) — the pressure dipole measure of ENSO. In the following, we explore how the low-fidelity version of the SOI can reveal the high-frequency content via the solution to Laplace’s Tidal Equations.

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High Resolution Analysis of SOI

In Chapter 12 of the book, we have a description of the mechanism forcing the El Nino / Southern Oscillation (ENSO) behavior. ENSO shows a rich dynamic behavior, yet for the pressure dipole measure of ENSO, the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), we find even greater richness in terms of it’s higher frequency components. Typically, SOI is presented with at least a 30-day moving average applied to the time-series to remove the higher-frequencies, but a daily time-series is also available for analysis dating back to 1991. The high-resolution analysis was not included in the book but we did  present the topic at last December’s AGU meeting.  What follows is an updated analysis …

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