Document Details

Southern California winter precipitation variability reflected in 100-year ocean salinity record

Sierra M. Byrne, Mark A. Merrifield, Melissa L. Carter, Daniel R. Cayan, Reinhard E. Flick, Alexander Gershunov, Sarah N. Giddings | April 27th, 2023

Rainfall in southern California is highly variable, with some fluctuations explainable by climate patterns. Resulting runoff and heightened streamflow from rain events introduces freshwater plumes into the coastal ocean. Here we use a 105-year daily sea surface salinity record collected at Scripps Pier in La Jolla, California to show that El Niño Southern Oscillation and Pacific Decadal Oscillation both have signatures in coastal sea surface salinity. Averaging the freshest quantile of sea surface salinity over each year’s winter season provides a useful metric for connecting the coastal ocean to interannual winter rainfall variability, through the influence of freshwater plumes originating, at closest, 7.5 km north of Scripps Pier. This salinity metric has a clear relationship with dominant climate phases: negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation and La Niña conditions correspond consistently with lack of salinity anomaly/ dry winters. Fresh salinity anomalies (i.e., wet winters) occur during positive phase Pacific Decadal Oscillation and El Niño winters, although not consistently. This analysis emphasizes the strong influence that precipitation and consequent streamflow has on the coastal ocean, even in a region of overall low freshwater input, and provides an ocean-based metric for assessing decadal rainfall variability.


salinity, water supply forecasting