National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2014

Comment on Qian et al. 2008: La Niña and El Niño composites of atmospheric CO2 change

Chiodi, A.M., and D.E. Harrison

Tellus B, 66, 20428, doi: 10.3402/tellusb.v66.20428 (2014)

It is well known that interannual extremes in the rate of change of atmospheric CO2 are strongly influenced by the occurrence of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events. Qian et al. presented ENSO composites of atmospheric CO2 changes. We show that their composites do not reflect the atmospheric changes that are most relevant to understanding the role of ENSO on atmospheric CO2 variability. We present here composites of atmospheric CO2 change that differ markedly from those of Qian et al., and reveal previously unreported asymmetries between the effects on the global carbon system of El Niño and La Niña events. The calendar-year timing differs; La Niña changes in atmospheric CO2 typically occur primarily over September–May, while El Niño changes occur primarily over December–August. And the net concentration change is quite different; La Niña changes are about half the size of El Niño changes. These results illustrate new aspects of the ENSO/global carbon budget interaction and provide useful global-scale benchmarks for the evaluation of Earth System Model studies of the carbon system.

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