The linear response of ENSO to the Madden-Julian Oscillation

Javier Zavala-Garay, C. Zhang, A. M. Moore, R. Kleeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The possibility that the tropical Pacific coupled system linearly amplifies perturbations produced by the Madden-Julian oscillation (MJO) is explored. This requires an estimate of the low-frequency tail of the MJO. Using 23 yr of NCEP-NCAR reanalyses of surface wind and Reynolds SST, we show that the spatial structure that dominates the intraseasonal band (i.e., the MJO) also dominates the low-frequency band once the anomalies directly related to ENSO have been removed. This low-frequency contribution of the intraseasonal variability is not included in most ENSO coupled models used to date. Its effect in a coupled model of intermediate complexity has, therefore, been studied. It is found that this "MJO forcing" (τMJO) can explain a large fraction of the interannual variability in an asymptotically stable version of the model. This interaction is achieved via linear dynamics. That is, it is the cumulative effect of individual events that maintains ENSOs in this model. The largest coupled wind anomalies are initiated after a sequence of several downwelling Kelvin waves of the same sign have been forced by τMJO. The cumulative effect of the forced Kelvin waves is to persist the (small) SST anomalies in the eastern Pacific just enough for the coupled ocean-atmosphere dynamics to amplify the anomalies into a mature ENSO event. Even though τ MJO explains just a small fraction of the energy contained in the stress not associated with ENSO, a large fraction of the modeled ENSO variability is excited by this forcing. The characteristics that make τMJO an optimal stochastic forcing for the model are discussed. The large zonal extent is an important factor that differentiates the MJO from other sources of stochastic forcing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2441-2459
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 1 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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