A review of the predictability and prediction of ENSO

M. Latif, D. Anderson, T. Barnett, M. Cane, R. Kleeman, A. Leetmaa, J. O'Brien, A. Rosati, E. Schneider

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A hierarchy of El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) prediction schemes has been developed during the Tropical Ocean-Global Atmosphere (TOGA) program which includes statistical schemes and physical models. The statistical models are, in general, based on linear statistical techniques and ca be classified into models which use atmospheric (sea level pressure or surface wind) or oceanic (sea surface temperature or a measure of upper ocean heat content) quantities or a combination of oceanic and atmospheric quantities as predictors. The physical models consist of coupled ocean-atmosphere models of varying degrees of complexity, ranging from simplified coupled models of the 'shallow water' type to coupled general circulation models. All models, statistical and physical, perform considerably better than the persistence forecast in predicting typical indices of ENSO on lead times of 6 to 12 months. The TOGA program can be regarded as a success from this perspective. However, despite the demonstrated predictability, little is known about ENSO predictability limits and the predictability of phenomena outside the tropical Pacific. Furthermore, the predictability of anomalous features known to be associated with ENSO (e.g., Indian monsoon and Sahel rainfall, southern African drought, and off-equatorial sea surface temperature) needs to be addressed in more detail. As well, the relative importance of different physical mechanisms (in the ocean or atmosphere) has yet to be established. A seasonal dependence in predictability is seen in many models, but the processes responsible for it are not fully understood, and its meaning is still a matter of scientific discussion. Likewise, a marked decadal variation in skill is observed, and the reasons for this are still under investigation. Finally, the different prediction models yield similar skills, although they are initialized quite differently. The reasons for these differences are also unclear.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14375-14393
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue numberC7
StatePublished - Jun 29 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Oceanography


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