Pacific Sea Surface Temperatures in the Twentieth Century: Variability, Trend, and Connections to Long-Term Hydroclimate Variations Over the Great Plains

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Pacific sea surface temperatures (SSTs) exhibit variability on interannual to centennial time scales. This dissertation addresses the challenge to separate SST natural variability from the nonstationary (largely anthropogenic) warming trend; and, based on the clarified variability/trend patterns, evaluate SST forcing of long-term hydroclimate variations over the Great Plains.

First, a consistent analysis of natural variability and secular trend in the twentieth century Pacific SSTs is presented. By focusing on spatial and temporal recurrence, but without imposition of periodicity constraints, this single analysis discriminates between biennial, ENSO and decadal variabilities, leading to refined evolutionary descriptions; and between these natural variability modes and secular trend. Specifically, canonical ENSO variability is encapsulated in two modes that depict the growth and decay phases. Another interannual mode, energetic in recent decades, is shown linked to the west-to-east SST development seen in post-climate shift ENSOs: the non-canonical ESNO mode. Pacific decadal variability (PDV) is characterized by two modes: the Pan-Pacific mode has a horse-shoe structure with the closed end skirting the North American coast, and a quiescent eastern equatorial Pacific. The second decadal mode--the North Pacific mode--captures the 1976/77 climate shift and is closer to Mantua's Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Implicit accommodation of natural variability leads to a nonstationary SST trend, including midcentury cooling.

These Pacific--and residual Atlantic--SST modes are then investigated for their connections to long-term hydroclimate variations over the Great Plains. During the Dust Bowl, dry anomalies in summer are found primarily linked to cool SSTs in the central tropical Pacific associated with non-canonical ENSO, as well as warm SSTs in the eastern tropical Atlantic associated with Atlantic Niño; in spring, however, dry anomalies are overwhelmed by connections to extratropical basins, when the cool phase of the SST trend coincided with a warm phase of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). Dry (wet) anomalies during the 1950s (1980s) are shown linked to the warm (cool) phase of the North Pacific decadal mode, as well as a warm (cool) AMO. The analysis suggests comparable importance of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans in drought forcing, and highlights the role of the extratropical basins.