Coupled ocean-atmosphere dynamical processes in the tropical Indian and Pacific Oceans and the TBO

Gerald A. Meehl, Julie M. Arblaster, Johannes Loschnigg

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The transitions (from relatively strong to relatively weak monsoon) in the tropospheric biennial oscillation (TBO) occur in northern spring for the south Asian or Indian monsoon and northern fall for the Australian monsoon involving coupled land-atmosphere-ocean processes over a large area of the Indo-Pacific region. Transitions from March-May (MAM) to June-September (JJAS) tend to set the system for the next year, with a transition to the opposite sign the following year. Previous analyses of observed data and GCM sensitivity experiments have demonstrated that the TBO (with roughly a 2-3-yr period) encompasses most ENSO years (with their well-known biennial tendency). In addition, there are other years, including many Indian Ocean dipole (or zonal mode) events, that contribute to biennial transition. Results presented here from observations for composites of TBO evolution confirm earlier results that the Indian and Pacific SST forcings are more dominant in the TBO than circulation and meridional temperature gradient anomalies over Asia. A fundamental element of the TBO is the large-scale east-west atmospheric circulation (the Walker circulation) that links anomalous convection and precipitation, winds, and ocean dynamics across the Indian and Pacific sectors. This circulation connects convection over the Asian-Australian monsoon regions both to the central and eastern Pacific (the eastern Walker cell), and to the central and western Indian Ocean (the western Walker cell). Analyses of upper-ocean data confirm previous results and show that ENSO El Niño and La Ninña events as well as Indian Ocean SST dipole (or zonal mode) events are often large-amplitude excursions of the TBO in the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans, respectively, associated with anomalous eastern and western Walker cell circulations, coupled ocean dynamics, and upper-ocean temperature and heat content anomalies. Other years with similar but lower-amplitude signals in the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans also contribute to the TBO. Observed upper-ocean data for the Indian Ocean show that slowly eastward-propagating equatorial ocean heat content anomalies, westward-propagating ocean Rossby waves south of the equator, and anomalous cross-equatorial ocean heat transports contribute to the heat content anomalies in the Indian Ocean and thus to the ocean memory and consequent SST anomalies, which are an essential part of the TBO.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2138-2158
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2003
Externally publishedYes

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