The global electric circuit land–ocean response to the El Niño—Southern Oscillation

Nikolay N. Slyunyaev*, Nikolay V. Ilin, Evgeny A. Mareev, Colin G. Price

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is known that the global electric circuit (GEC) intensity can be characterised by a single global index, namely the ionospheric potential (IP), made up of contributions from electrified clouds all over the globe. Using the Weather Research and Forecasting model, we have reproduced the atmospheric dynamics for 2008–2018 and simulated the variation of the GEC by parameterising regional contributions to the IP in terms of convection and precipitation. Considering that the El Niño—Southern Oscillation (ENSO) can be quantitatively characterised by sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the Niño 3.4 region, this allowed us to identify and study in detail the effect of ENSO on regional contributions to the GEC. Our simulations have shown that contributions to the GEC from the land and oceanic parts of the Earth's surface respond oppositely to the ENSO cycle. The oceanic contribution is positively correlated with the Niño 3.4 SST, largely owing to increases in convection over the Pacific Ocean. In contrast to the oceans, the land contribution shows a negative correlation with ENSO due to decreases in convection over the Maritime Continent and South America. The observed correlations are statistically significant and are clearly seen on the decadal timescale; at the same time contributions to the IP for individual years do not always clearly reflect the corresponding Niño 3.4 SST anomalies. During the two El Niños and two La Niñas that occurred between 2008 and 2018, the oceanic contribution always changed in phase with ENSO, increasing in El Niño years and decreasing in La Niña years; on the other hand, the contribution of land showed a clear variation in antiphase with ENSO only for the 2015/16 El Niño and 2010/11 La Niña, characterised by extremely large SST anomalies, with a small and indefinite effect for the two lesser events. When summing the contributions of land and ocean, two strong effects of opposite signs nearly counterbalance each other and we obtain a much less pronounced effect of ENSO on the total IP. This effect is generally positive since land and ocean provide nearly equal contributions to the GEC during Northern Hemisphere winters and, according to our analysis, the contribution of ocean is slightly more sensitive to ENSO than that of land.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105626
JournalAtmospheric Research
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2021


FundersFunder number
Russian Science Foundation18-77-10061
Government Council on Grants, Russian Federation075-15-2019-1892


    • Convection
    • ENSO
    • Global electric circuit
    • Ionospheric potential
    • Land–ocean contrast
    • Modelling


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