, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 1003-1013
Date: 17 Aug 2010

Is model parameter error related to a significant spring predictability barrier for El Niño events? Results from a theoretical model

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Within a theoretical ENSO model, the authors investigated whether or not the errors superimposed on model parameters could cause a significant “spring predictability barrier” (SPB) for El Niño events. First, sensitivity experiments were respectively performed to the air-sea coupling parameter, α and the thermocline effect coefficient µ. The results showed that the uncertainties superimposed on each of the two parameters did not exhibit an obvious season-dependent evolution; furthermore, the uncertainties caused a very small prediction error and consequently failed to yield a significant SPB. Subsequently, the conditional nonlinear optimal perturbation (CNOP) approach was used to study the effect of the optimal mode (CNOP-P) of the uncertainties of the two parameters on the SPB and to demonstrate that the CNOP-P errors neither presented a unified season-dependent evolution for different El Niño events nor caused a large prediction error, and therefore did not cause a significant SPB. The parameter errors played only a trivial role in yielding a significant SPB. To further validate this conclusion, the authors investigated the effect of the optimal combined mode (i.e. CNOP error) of initial and model errors on SPB. The results illustrated that the CNOP errors tended to have a significant season-dependent evolution, with the largest error growth rate in the spring, and yielded a large prediction error, inducing a significant SPB. The inference, therefore, is that initial errors, rather than model parameter errors, may be the dominant source of uncertainties that cause a significant SPB for El Niño events. These results indicate that the ability to forecast ENSO could be greatly increased by improving the initialization of the forecast model.