Sea-Level Height as a proxy for ENSO

Sea-level height has several scales. At the daily scale it represents the well-known lunisolar tidal cycle. At a multi-decadal, long-term scale it represents behaviors such as global warming. In between these two scales is what often appears to be noisy fluctuations to the untrained eye. Yet it’s fairly well-accepted [1] that much of this fluctuation is due to the side-effects of alternating La Nina and El Nino cycles (aka ENSO, the El Nino Southern Oscillation), as represented by measures such as NINO34 and SOI.

To see how startingly aligned this mapping is, consider the SLH readings from Ft. Denison in Sydney Harbor. The interval from 1980 to 2012 is shown below, along with a fit used recently to model ENSO.

(click to expand chart)

I chose a shorter interval to somewhat isolate the trend from a secular sea-level rise due to AGW. The last point is 2012 because tide gauge data collection ended then.

As cross-validation, this fit is extrapolated backwards to show how it matches the historic SOI cycles

Much of the fine structure aligns well, indicating that intrinsically the dynamics behind sea-level-height at this scale are due to ENSO changes, associated with the inverted barometer effect. The SOI is essentially the pressure differential between Darwin and Tahiti, so the prevailing atmospheric pressure occurring during varying ENSO conditions follows the rising or lowering Sydney Harbor sea-level in a synchronized fashion. The change is 1 cm for a 1 mBar change in pressure, so that with the SOI extremes showing 14 mBar variation at the Darwin location, this accounts for a 14 cm change in sea-level, roughly matching that shown in the first chart. Note that being a differential measurement, SOI does not suffer from long-term secular changes in trend.

Yet, the unsaid implication in all this is that not only are the daily variations in SLH due to lunar and solar cyclic tidal forces, but so are these monthly to decadal variations. The longstanding impediment is that oceanographers have not been able to solve Laplace’s Tidal Equations that reflected the non-linear character of the ocean’s response to the long-period lunisolar forcing. Once that’s been analytically demonstrated, we can observe that both SLH and ENSO share essentially identical lunisolar forcing (see chart below), arising from that same common-mode linked mechanism.

Many geographically located tidal gauge readings are available from the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level (PSMSL) repository so I can imagine much can be done to improve the characterization of ENSO via SLH readings.

REFERENCES

[1] F. Zou, R. Tenzer, H. S. Fok, G. Meng and Q. Zhao, “The Sea-Level Changes in Hong Kong From Tide-Gauge Records and Remote Sensing Observations Over the Last Seven Decades,” in IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing, vol. 14, pp. 6777-6791, 2021, doi: 10.1109/JSTARS.2021.3087263.


“Wobbling” Moon trending on Twitter

Twitter trending topic

This NASA press release has received mainstream news attention.

The 18.6 year nodal cycle will generate higher tides that will exaggerate sea-level rise due to climate change.

Yahoo news item:

https://news.yahoo.com/lunar-orbit-apos-wobble-apos-173042717.html

So this is more-or-less a known behavior, but hopefully it raises awareness to the other work relating lunar forcing to ENSO, QBO, and the Chandler wobble.

Cited paper

Thompson, P.R., Widlansky, M.J., Hamlington, B.D. et al. Rapid increases and extreme months in projections of United States high-tide flooding. Nat. Clim. Chang. 11, 584–590 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-021-01077-8

Forced Natural Responses to LTE Solution

In Chapter 12 of the book, we describe in detail the solution to Laplace’s Tidal Equations (LTE), which were introduced in Chapter 11.  Like the solution to the linear wave equation, where there are even (cosine) and odd (sine) natural responses, there are also  even and odd responses for nonlinear wave equations such as the Mathieu equation, where the natural response solutions are identified as MathieuC and MathieuS.  So we find that in general the mix of even and odd solutions for any modeled problem is governed by the initial conditions of the behavior along with any continuing forcing. We will describe how that applies to the LTE system next:

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Long-Period Tides

In Chapter 12 of the book, we provide a short introduction to ocean tidal analysis. This has an important connection to our model of ENSO (in the same chapter), as the same lunisolar gravitational forcing factors generate the driving stimulus to both tidal and ENSO behaviors. Noting that a recent paper [1] analyzing the so-called long-period tides (i.e. annual, monthly, fortnightly, weekly) in the Drake Passage provides a quantitative spectral decomposition of the tidal factors, it is interesting to revisit our ENSO analysis in the conventional ocean tidal context …


Woodworth and Hibbert [1] use selective bottom pressure recorder (BPR) measurements to extract the tidal factors. Below we reproduce the power spectrum and tidal model fit of the data from their paper.

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