Climate Dynamics

, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 169-195

First online:

Role of the southern Indian Ocean in the transitions of the monsoon-ENSO system during recent decades

  • P. TerrayAffiliated withLaboratoire d’Océanographie Dynamique et de ClimatologieUniversité Paris 7 Email author 
  • , S. DominiakAffiliated withLaboratoire d’Océanographie Dynamique et de Climatologie
  • , P. DelecluseAffiliated withLaboratoire d’Océanographie Dynamique et de ClimatologieLaboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement

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The focus of this study is to document the possible role of the southern subtropical Indian Ocean in the transitions of the monsoon-ENSO system during recent decades. Composite analyses of sea surface temperature (SST) fields prior to El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Indian summer monsoon (ISM), Australian summer monsoon (AUSM), tropical Indian Ocean dipole (TIOD) and Maritime Continent rainfall (MCR) indices reveal the southeast Indian Ocean (SEIO) SSTs during late boreal winter as the unique common SST precursor of these various phenomena after the 1976–1977 regime shift. Weak (strong) ISMs and AUSMs, El Niños (La Niñas) and positive (negative) TIOD events are preceded by significant negative (positive) SST anomalies in the SEIO, off Australia during boreal winter. These SST anomalies are mainly linked to subtropical Indian Ocean dipole events, recently studied by Behera and Yamagata (Geophys Res Lett 28:327–330, 2001). A wavelet analysis of a February–March SEIO SST time series shows significant spectral peaks at 2 and 4–8 years time scales as for ENSO, ISM or AUSM indices. A composite analysis with respect to February–March SEIO SSTs shows that cold (warm) SEIO SST anomalies are highly persistent and affect the westward translation of the Mascarene high from austral to boreal summer, inducing a weakening (strengthening) of the whole ISM circulation through a modulation of the local Hadley cell during late boreal summer. At the same time, these subtropical SST anomalies and the associated SEIO anomalous anticyclone may be a trigger for both the wind-evaporation-SST and wind-thermocline-SST positive feedbacks between Australia and Sumatra during boreal spring and early summer. These positive feedbacks explain the extraordinary persistence of the SEIO anomalous anticyclone from boreal spring to fall. Meanwhile, the SEIO anomalous anticyclone favors persistent southeasterly wind anomalies along the west coast of Sumatra and westerly wind anomalies over the western Pacific, which are well-known key factors for the evolution of positive TIOD and El Niño events, respectively. A correlation analysis supports these results and shows that SEIO SSTs in February–March has higher predictive skill than other well-established ENSO predictors for forecasting Niño3.4 SST at the end of the year. This suggests again that SEIO SST anomalies exert a fundamental influence on the transitions of the whole monsoon-ENSO system during recent decades.