How many ENSO flavors can we distinguish?*
Abstract It is now widely recognized that the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) occurs in more than one form, with the canonical eastern Pacific (EP) and more recently recognized central Pacific (CP) ENSO types receiving the most focus. Given that these various ENSO ?flavors? may contribute to climate variability and long-term trends in unique ways, and that ENSO variability is not limited to these two types, this study presents a framework that treats ENSO as a continuum but determines a finite, maximum number of statistically distinguishable representative ENSO patterns. A neural network-based cluster analysis called self-organizing map (SOM) analysis paired with a statistical distinguishability test determine nine unique patterns that characterize the September ? February tropical Pacific SST anomaly fields for the period from 1950 through 2011. These nine patterns represent the flavors of ENSO, which include EP, CP, and mixed ENSO patterns. Over the 1950-2011 period, the most significant trends reflect changes in La Niña patterns, with a shift in dominance of La Niña-like patterns with weak or negative west Pacific warm pool SST anomalies until the mid 1970s, followed by a dominance of La Niña-like patterns with positive west Pacific warm pool SST anomalies, particularly after the mid 1990s. Both an EP and especially a CP El Niño pattern experienced positive frequency trends, but these trends are indistinguishable from natural variability. Overall, changes in frequency within the ENSO continuum contributed to the pattern of tropical Pacific warming, particularly in the equatorial eastern Pacific and especially in relation to changes of the La Niña-like rather than El Niño-like patterns.