Articles | Volume 18, issue 1
Research article
21 Jan 2011
Research article |  | 21 Jan 2011

Interactions between marine biota and ENSO: a conceptual model analysis

M. Heinemann, A. Timmermann, and U. Feudel

Abstract. We develop a conceptual coupled atmosphere-ocean-ecosystem model for the tropical Pacific to investigate the interaction between marine biota and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Ocean and atmosphere are represented by a two-box model for the equatorial Pacific cold tongue and the warm pool, including a simplified mixed layer scheme. Marine biota are represented by a three-component (nutrient, phytoplankton, and zooplankton) ecosystem model.

The atmosphere-ocean model exhibits an oscillatory state which qualitatively captures the main physics of ENSO. During an ENSO cycle, the variation of nutrient upwelling, and, to a small extent, the variation of photosynthetically available radiation force an ecosystem oscillation. The simplified ecosystem in turn, due to the effect of phytoplankton on the absorption of shortwave radiation in the water column, leads to (1) a warming of the tropical Pacific, (2) a reduction of the ENSO amplitude, and (3) a prolongation of the ENSO period. We qualitatively investigate these bio-physical coupling mechanisms using continuation methods. It is demonstrated that bio-physical coupling may play a considerable role in modulating ENSO variability.