Climate Dynamics

, Volume 51, Issue 5–6, pp 2097–2112 | Cite as

Indian Ocean warming during peak El Niño cools surrounding land masses

  • N. HeroldEmail author
  • A. Santoso


Understanding the interactions between the Pacific and other ocean basins during extreme phases of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is necessary for explaining its global climate impacts. Here climate model experiments are used to highlight a mechanism by which the characteristic warming of the Indian Ocean during peak El Niño months can cool North Africa and South Asia, an area encompassing over three billion people. It is found that warming of the Indian Ocean during extreme El Niño events leads to broader upper tropospheric geopotential height anomalies than would otherwise occur. This weakens the extratropical Rossby wave response initiated in the tropics and leads to higher pressure and reduced cloud forcing over North Africa and South Asia. Reanalysis data provides empirical support for this mechanism, although it is likely only to be prominent during strong El Niño events when Indian Ocean warming tends to be larger. This dampening effect needs to be taken into account in understanding the climatic impact of extreme El Niño events, which are projected to increase under global warming.


El Niño ENSO Indian Ocean Teleconnection 



The authors would like to thank T. Loughran for providing ACCESS model output and V. Dixit for discussions on aqua-planet simulations. NH is supported by Australian Research Council Grant CE110001028. AS is supported by the Australian Research Council and the Earth Science and Climate Change Hub of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Programme (NESP). This research/project was undertaken with the assistance of resources and services from the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI), which is supported by the Australian Government. The NCAR Command Language (UCAR/NCAR/CISL/VETS 2016) was used to create figures and process data. The University of Delaware terrestrial air temperature data was provided by the NOAA/OAR/ESRL PSD, Boulder, Colorado, USA, from their Web site at

Supplementary material

382_2017_4001_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (693 kb)
Supplementary Figure 1. Same as Figure 2 except for the ACCESS climate model and showing 2 m air temperature (skin temperature was not saved in ACCESS simulations) (PDF 692 KB)
382_2017_4001_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (593 kb)
Supplementary Figure 2. Same as Figure 3 except for the ACCESS climate model (PDF 593 KB)
382_2017_4001_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (690 kb)
Supplementary Figure 3. Same as Figure 4 except for the ACCESS climate model (PDF 689 KB)
382_2017_4001_MOESM4_ESM.pdf (784 kb)
Supplementary Figure 4. Same as Figure 2 except b shows the response when El Niño SST anomalies are only added to the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans (cf. Fig. 2b). c shows the difference between b and a. (PDF 784 KB)
382_2017_4001_MOESM5_ESM.pdf (1.2 mb)
Supplementary Figure 5. 850 mb winds (arrows) and magnitudes (colours) for, a) CTRL, b) PACIFIC-CTRL, c) GLOBAL-CTRL and d) GLOBAL-PACIFIC. Note: Contour levels for each panel differ (PDF 1238 KB)
382_2017_4001_MOESM6_ESM.pdf (808 kb)
Supplementary Figure 6. DJF skin temperature for a) INDIAN-CTRL, b) PACIFIC.INDIAN-CTRL, and c) PACIFIC.INDIAN-INDIAN. Stippling indicates statistical significance at p < 0.1 (SSTs show no significant change due to their constant values between ensembles) (PDF 807 KB)
382_2017_4001_MOESM7_ESM.pdf (50 kb)
Supplementary Figure 7. Time-series for the NINO3.4 index (green), the Basin-Wide Index (BWI; red) and mean terrestrial skin temperature anomalies over North Africa and South Asia (blue). See section 2 for description of the NINO3.4 index. The BWI constitutes detrended anomalous SSTs averaged over the tropical Indian Ocean (20°S–20°N, 40°–100°E; after Saji et al. 2006). Terrestrial skin temperature anomalies for North Africa and South Asia averaged over 10°N - 30°N and 15°E - 120°E. All three time-series reflect standardised mean DJF values. Back squares indicate El Niño years. The difference between the BWI and land temperatures for the extreme El Niño years of 1982/83, 1997/98 and 2015/16 and the moderate El Niño years of 1986/87, 1987/88, 1994/95, 2002/03, 2009/10 and 2014/15 are statistically significant at the 90% level (PDF 50 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Climate Change Research Centre and ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System ScienceUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research (CSHOR)CSIRO Oceans and AtmosphereHobartAustralia

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