Climate Dynamics

, Volume 41, Issue 5, pp 1509-1525

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

On the dependence of ENSO simulation on the coupled model mean state

  • L. MagnussonAffiliated withECMWF Email author 
  • , M. Alonso-BalmasedaAffiliated withECMWF
  • , F. MolteniAffiliated withECMWF


Systematic model error remains a difficult problem for seasonal forecasting and climate predictions. An error in the mean state could affect the variability of the system. In this paper, we investigate the impact of the mean state on the properties of ENSO. A set of coupled decadal integrations have been conducted, where the mean state and its seasonal cycle have been modified by applying flux correction to the momentum-flux and a combination of heat and momentum fluxes. It is shown that correcting the mean state and the seasonal cycle improves the amplitude of SST inter-annual variability and also the penetration of the ENSO signal into the troposphere and the spatial distribution of the ENSO teleconnections are improved. An analysis of a multivariate PDF of ENSO shows clearly that the flux correction affects the mean, variance, skewness and tails of the distribution. The changes in the tails of the distribution are particularly noticeable in the case of precipitation, showing that without the flux correction the model is unable to reproduce the frequency of large events. For the inter-annual variability the momentum-flux correction alone has a large impact, while the additional heat-flux correction is important for the teleconnections. These results suggest that the current forecasts practices of removing the forecast bias a-posteriori or anomaly initialisation are by no means optimal, since they can not deal with the strong nonlinear interactions. A consequence of the results presented here is that the predictability on annual time-ranges could be higher than currently achieved. Whether or not the correction of the model mean state by some sort of flux correction leads to better forecasts needs to be addressed. In any case, flux correction may be a powerful tool for diagnosing coupled model errors and predictability studies.


ENSO Flux correction Seasonal forecast Decadal forecast