A stochastic skeleton model for the MJO

Sulian Thual, Andrew J. Majda, Samuel N. Stechmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Madden-Julian oscillation (MJO) is the dominant mode of variability in the tropical atmosphere on intraseasonal time scales and planetary spatial scales. Despite the primary importance of the MJO and the decades of research progress since its original discovery, a generally accepted theory for its essential mechanisms has remained elusive. In recent work by two of the authors, a minimal dynamical model has been proposed that recovers robustly the most fundamental MJO features of (i) a slow eastward speed of roughly 5ms-1, (ii) a peculiar dispersion relation with dw/dk = 0, and (iii) a horizontal quadrupole vortex structure. This model, the skeleton model, depicts the MJOas a neutrally stable atmospheric wave that involves a simple multiscale interaction between planetary dry dynamics, planetary lower-tropospheric moisture, and the planetary envelope of synoptic-scale activity. In this article, it is shown that the skeleton model can further account for (iv) the intermittent generation ofMJO events and (v) the organization of MJO events into wave trains with growth and demise, as seen in nature. The goal is achieved by developing a simple stochastic parameterization for the unresolved details of synoptic-scale activity, which is coupled to otherwise deterministic processes in the skeleton model. In particular, the intermittent initiation, propagation, and shut down ofMJO wave trains in the skeleton model occur through these stochastic effects. This includes examples with a background warm pool where some initialMJO-like disturbances propagate through the western region but stall at the peak of background convection/heating corresponding to the Maritime Continent in nature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)697-715
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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