ENSO and Fourier analysis

Much of tidal analysis has been performed by Fourier analysis, whereby one can straightforwardly deduce the frequency components arising from the various lunar and solar orbital factors. In a perfectly linear world with only two ideal sinusoidal cycles, we would see the Fourier amplitude spectra of Figure 1.

Fig 1: Amplitude spectra for a signal with two sinusoidal Fourier components. To establish the phase, both a real value and imaginary value is plotted.

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The Lunar Geophysical Connection

The conjecture out of NASA JPL is that the moon has an impact on the climate greater than is currently understood:

Claire Perigaud (Caltech/JPL)
Has this research gone anywhere?  Looks as if has gone to this spin-off.
According to the current consensus, variability in wind is what contributes to forcing for behaviors such as the El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO).
OK, but what forces the wind? No one can answer that apart from saying wind variability is just a part of the dynamic climate system.  And so we are lead to believe that a wind burst will cause an ENSO and then the ENSO event will create a significant disruptive transient to the climate much larger than the original wind stimulus. And that's all due to positive feedback of some sort.
I am only paraphrasing the current consensus.
A much more plausible and parsimonious explanation lies with external lunar forcing reinforced by seasonal cycles.

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ENSO Proxy Validation

This is a straightforward validation of the ENSO model presented at last December's AGU.

What I did was use the modern instrumental record of ENSO — the NINO34 data set — as a training interval, and then tested across the historical coral proxy record — the UEP data set.

The correlation coefficient in the out-of-band region of 1650 to 1880 is excellent, considering that only two RHS lunar periods (draconic and anomalistic month) are used for forcing. As a matter of fact, trying to get any kind of agreement with the UEP using an arbitrary set of sine waves is problematic as the time-series appears nearly chaotic and thus requires may Fourier components to fit. With the ENSO model in place, the alignment with the data is automatic. It predicts the strong El Nino in 1877-1878 and then nearly everything before that.

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ENSO and Tidal SLH - A Biennial Connection

It's becoming abundantly clear that ENSO is driven by lunisolar mechanisms, especially true considering that we use the preferred models describing sloshing of water volumes -- the Mathieu equation and the delay differential equation. What's more, given the fact that the ENSO model works so well, one can guess that a connection between ENSO and lunar tidal forces should carry over to models for historical sea-level height (SLH) tidal data.

From my preliminary work analyzing SLH tidal data in 2014, I found an intriguing pattern relating to the same biennial pattern observed in the ENSO model. An extract from that post is reproduced below:

"The idea, related to delay differential equations, is to determine if it is at all possible to model at least part of ENSO (through the SOI) with data from a point in time in the tidal record with a compensated point from the past. This essentially models the effect of the current wave being cancelled partially by the reflection of a previous wave.

This is essentially suggesting that SOI = k f(t) - k f(t-\Delta t) where f(t) is the tidal record and k is a constant.

After some experimenting, a good fit is obtained when the current tidal data is set to 3 months ago, and the prior data is taken from 26 months in the past. To model the negative of ENSO, the 3-month old data is subtracted from the 26-month old data, Figure 1:"

Fig 1: Model of ENSO uses Tidal Gauge readings from Sydney Harbor.

This observation suggests a biennial pattern whereby high correlations in the time series occur for events observed close to two-years apart, with the difference taken up by the ENSO signal. The latter is at least partly due to the inverted barometer effect on SLH.

The sensitivity of the biennial effect is shown in the following contour diagram, where the peak CC is indicated and a slanted line showing the 2-year differencing points (table of the correlation coefficients here)

Focussing on the mechanisms for the correlation, the predictor can be reformulated as

f(t) = f(t-\Delta t) + SOI / k

This brings up an interesting question as to why this biennial signal apparently can't be detected via conventional means. A likely guess is because it gets obscured by the ENSO signal. And since the ENSO signal has never been adequately modeled, no one has an inkling that a biennial signal coexists in the mix. Yet this unconventional delay differencing approach (incidentally discovered with the help of machine learning) is able to discern it with a strong statistical significance.

The gist of this discovery is that a biennial tidal SLH motion exists and likely contributes (or at least identifies) the nonlinear biennial modulation driving the ENSO model described in previous posts.


ENSO has elements of an annual teeter-totter. If you look through the research literature, you will find numerous references to a hypothesized behavior that one annual peak is followed by a lesser peak the next year. Yet, no evidence that this strict biennial cycle is evidence in the data — it's more of a hand-wavy physical argument that this can or should occur.

The way to model this teeter-totter behavior is via Mathieu equations and delay differential equations. Both of these provide a kind of non-linear modulation that can sustain a biennial feedback mechanism.

The other ingredient is a forcing mechanism. The current literature appears to agree that this is due to prevailing wind bursts, which to me seems intuitive but doesn't answer what forces the wind in the first place. As it turns out, only two parameters are needed to force the DiffEq and these align precisely with the primary lunar cycles that govern transverse and longitudinal directional momentum, the draconic and anomalistic months.

The ENSO model turns into a metrology tool

Note the following table and how the draconic and anomalistic values zone in on the true value when correlating model against data:

Fitting the DiffEq values progressively away from the true value for the lunar tidal cycle results in a smaller correlation coefficient.

Having one of these values align may be coincidence, but having both combine with that kind of resolution is telling. The biennial connection to SLH tidal measurements is substantiation that a biennial modulation is intrinsic to the physical process.

Canonical Solution of Mathieu Equation for ENSO

From a previous post, we were exploring possible solutions to the Mathieu equation given a pulsed stimulus.  This is a more straightforward decomposition of the differential equation using a spreadsheet.

The Mathieu equation:

f''(t) + \omega_0^2 (1 + \alpha \cos(\nu t)) f(t) = F(t)

can be approximated as a difference equation, where the second derivative f''(t) is ~ (f(t)-2f(t-dt)+f(t-2dt))/dt. But perhaps what we really want is a difference to the previous year and determine if that is enough to reinforce the biennial modulation that we are seeing in the ENSO behavior.

Setting up a spreadsheet with a lag term and a 1-year-prior feedback term, we apply both the biennial impulse-modulated lunar forcing stimulus and a yearly-modulated Mathieu term.

Fig. 1: Training (in shaded blue) and test for different intervals.

I was surprised by how remarkable the approximate fit was in the recent post, but this more canonical analysis is even more telling. The number of degrees of freedom in the dozen lunar amplitude terms apparently has no impact on over-fitting, even on the shortest interval in the third chart. There is noise in the ENSO data no doubt, but that noise seems to be secondary considering how the fit seems to mostly capture the real signal. The first two charts are complementary in that regard — the fit is arguably better in each of the training intervals yet the test interval results aren't really that much different from the direct fit looking at it by eye.

Just like in ocean tidal analysis, the strongest tidal cycles dominate;  in this case the Draconic and Anomalistic monthly, the Draconic and Anomalistic fortnightly, and a Draconic monthly+Anomalistic fortnightly cross term are the strongest (described here). Even though there is much room for weighting these factors differently on orthogonal intervals, the Excel Solver fit hones in on nearly the same weighted set on each interval.  As I said in a previous post, the number of degrees of freedom apparently do not lead to over-fitting issues.

One other feature of this fit was an application of a sin() function applied to the result. This is derived from the Sturm-Liouville solution to Laplace's tidal equation used in the QBO analysis  — which works effectively to normalize the model to the data, since the correlation coefficient optimizing metric does not scale the result automatically.

Pondering for a moment, perhaps the calculus is not so different to work out after all:


(from @rabaath on Twitter)

A bottom-line finding is that there is really not much complexity to this unique tidal formulation model of ENSO.  But because of the uniqueness of the seasonal modulation that we apply, it just doesn't look like the more-or-less regular cycles contributing to sea-level height tidal data.  Essentially similar algorithms are applied to find the right weighting of tidal factors, but whereas the SLH tidal data shows up in daily readings, the ENSO data is year-to-year.

Further, the algorithm does not take more than a minute or two to finish fitting the model to the data. Below is a time lapse of one such trial. Although this isn't an optimal fit, one can see how the training interval solver adjustment (in the shaded region) pulls the rest of the modeled time-series into alignment with the out-of-band test interval data.

The Chandler Wobble Challenge

In the last post I mentioned I was trying to simplify the ENSO model. Right now the forcing is a mix of angular momentum variations related to Chandler wobble and lunisolar tidal pull. This is more complex than I would like to see, as there are a mix of potentially confounding factors. So what happens if the Chandler wobble is directly tied to the draconic/nodal cycles in the lunar tide? There is empirical evidence for this even though it is not outright acknowledged in the consensus geophysics literature. What you will find are many references to the long period nodal cycle of 18.6 years (example), which is clearly a lunar effect. If that is indeed the case, then the behavior of ENSO is purely lunisolar, as the Chandler wobble behavior is subsumed. That simplification would be significant in further behavioral modeling.

The figure below is my fit to the Chandler wobble, seemingly matching the aliased lunar draconic cycle rather precisely, taken from a previous blog post:


The consensus is that it is impossible for the moon to induce a nutation in the earth's rotation to match the Chandler wobble. Yet, the seasonally reinforced draconic pull leads to an aliasing that is precisely the same value as the Chandler wobble period over the span of many years. Is this just coincidence or is there something that the geophysicists are missing?

It's kind of hard to believe that this would be overlooked, and I have avoided discussing the correlation out of deference to the research literature. Yet the simplification to the ENSO model that a uniform lunisolar forcing would result in shouldn't be dismissed. To quote Clinton: "What if it is the moon, stupid?"

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