Simple stochastic model for El Niño with westerly wind bursts

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Atmospheric wind bursts in the tropics play a key role in the dynamics of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). A simple modeling framework is proposed that summarizes this relationship and captures major features of the observational record while remaining physically consistent and amenable to detailed analysis. Within this simple framework, wind burst activity evolves according to a stochastic two-state Markov switching-diffusion process that depends on the strength of the western Pacific warm pool, and is coupled to simple ocean-atmosphere processes that are otherwise deterministic, stable, and linear. A simple model with this parameterization and no additional nonlinearities reproduces a realistic ENSO cycle with intermittent El Niño and La Niña events of varying intensity and strength as well as realistic buildup and shutdown of wind burst activity in the western Pacific. The wind burst activity has a direct causal effect on the ENSO variability: in particular, it intermittently triggers regular El Niño or La Niña events, super El Niño events, or no events at all, which enables the model to capture observed ENSO statistics such as the probability density function and power spectrum of eastern Pacific sea surface temperatures. The present framework provides further theoretical and practical insight on the relationship between wind burst activity and the ENSO.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10245-10250
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number37
StatePublished - Sep 13 2016


  • State-dependent noise
  • Tropical atmospheric wind bursts
  • Two-state stochastic jump process

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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