ENSO Diversity in a tropical stochastic skeleton model for the MJO, El Niño, and dynamic walker circulation

Qiu Yang, Andrew J. Majda, Nan Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) diversity has a significant impact on global climate and seasonal prediction. However, it is still a challenging problem for present-day global climate models to simulate different types of ENSO events with realistic features simultaneously. In this paper, a tropical stochastic skeleton model for the interactions among wind bursts and the Madden-Julian oscillation (MJO), the El Niño, and the Walker circulation is developed to reproduce both dynamical and statistical features of the ENSO diversity. In this model, the intraseasonal component with state-dependent noise captures general features of wind bursts and the MJO, both of which play important roles in triggering the El Niño. The thermocline feedback is the dominant mechanism for generating the eastern Pacific (EP) El Niño, while a nonlinear zonal advection is incorporated into the model that contributes to the central Pacific (CP) El Niño. Besides, a simple but effective stochastic process describing the multidecadal variation of the background Walker circulation modulates the spatial patterns and occurrence frequency of the EP and CP El Niño. This model succeeds in simulating the quasi-regular moderate EP El Niño, the super El Niño, and the CP El Niño as well as the La Niña simultaneously. It also captures the observed non-Gaussian characteristics of sea surface temperature anomalies in different Niño regions. Individual case studies highlight the outstanding skill of the model in reproducing the observed El Niño episodes and their underlying mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3481-3501
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number9
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021


  • ENSO
  • Madden-Julian oscillation
  • Stochastic models
  • Tropical variability
  • Walker circulation
  • Wind bursts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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