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A Theory for the Tropical Tropospheric Biennial Oscillation

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  • 1 Department of Meteorology, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California
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Abstract

The key questions of how the tropospheric biennial oscillation (TBO) maintains the same phase from northern summer in South Asia to southern summer in Australia, and how the reversed phase can last through three locally inactive seasons to the next monsoon, are studied by a simple tropical atmosphere–ocean–land model. The model has five boxes representing the South Asian and Australian monsoon regions and the equatorial Indian and western and eastern Pacific Oceans. The five regions interact with each other through the SST–monsoon, evaporation–wind, monsoon–Walker circulation, and wind stress–ocean thermocline feedbacks.

A biennial oscillation emerges in a reasonable parameter regime, with model SST and wind variations resembling many aspects of the observed TBO. Warm SST anomalies (SSTA) in July in the equatorial Indian Ocean cause an increase of surface moisture convergence into South Asia, leading to a stronger monsoon. The monsoon heating on one hand induces a westerly wind anomaly in the Indian Ocean, and on the other hand intensifies a planetary-scale east–west circulation leading to anomalous easterlies over the western and central Pacific. The westerly anomaly over the Indian Ocean decreases the local SST, primarily by evaporation–wind feedback. The easterly anomaly in the central Pacific causes a deepening of the ocean thermocline in the western Pacific therefore increasing the subsurface and surface temperatures. In addition, a modest easterly anomaly in the western Pacific opposes the seasonal mean westerlies so evaporation is reduced. These effects overwhelm those of the cold zonal advection and anomalous upwelling. The net result is warm SSTA persisting in the western Pacific through northern fall, leading to a stronger Australian monsoon.

Meanwhile, the warming in the western Pacific also induces a stronger local Walker cell and thus a surface westerly anomaly over the Indian Ocean. This westerly anomaly helps the cold SSTA to persist through the succeeding seasons, leading to a weaker Asian monsoon in the following summer. During northern winter the westerly anomaly associated with the stronger Australian monsoon, through anomalous ocean downwelling and reduction of evaporation (when the seasonal mean wind is easterly), reinvigorates the warm SSTA in the western Pacific, which has been weakened by the slow cold advection from the eastern Pacific. This further intensifies the eastern Walker cell and helps to keep the eastern Pacific cold.

The authors’ theory indicates that the TBO is an inherent result of the interactions between northern summer and winter monsoon and the tropical Indian and Pacific Oceans. Thus, it is an important component of the tropical ocean–atmosphere interaction system, separate from the El Niño–Southern Oscillation. While the eastern Pacific plays only a passive role in this mechanism, the western Pacific–Maritime Continent region is crucially important. It serves as a bridge in space and time, both in connecting the convection anomaly from the northern summer to the northern winter monsoon and in channeling the feedback of the northern winter monsoon to the Indian Ocean.

Corresponding author address: Dr. C.-P. Chang, Department of Meteorology, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA 93493-5100.

Email: cpchang@nps.navy.mil

Abstract

The key questions of how the tropospheric biennial oscillation (TBO) maintains the same phase from northern summer in South Asia to southern summer in Australia, and how the reversed phase can last through three locally inactive seasons to the next monsoon, are studied by a simple tropical atmosphere–ocean–land model. The model has five boxes representing the South Asian and Australian monsoon regions and the equatorial Indian and western and eastern Pacific Oceans. The five regions interact with each other through the SST–monsoon, evaporation–wind, monsoon–Walker circulation, and wind stress–ocean thermocline feedbacks.

A biennial oscillation emerges in a reasonable parameter regime, with model SST and wind variations resembling many aspects of the observed TBO. Warm SST anomalies (SSTA) in July in the equatorial Indian Ocean cause an increase of surface moisture convergence into South Asia, leading to a stronger monsoon. The monsoon heating on one hand induces a westerly wind anomaly in the Indian Ocean, and on the other hand intensifies a planetary-scale east–west circulation leading to anomalous easterlies over the western and central Pacific. The westerly anomaly over the Indian Ocean decreases the local SST, primarily by evaporation–wind feedback. The easterly anomaly in the central Pacific causes a deepening of the ocean thermocline in the western Pacific therefore increasing the subsurface and surface temperatures. In addition, a modest easterly anomaly in the western Pacific opposes the seasonal mean westerlies so evaporation is reduced. These effects overwhelm those of the cold zonal advection and anomalous upwelling. The net result is warm SSTA persisting in the western Pacific through northern fall, leading to a stronger Australian monsoon.

Meanwhile, the warming in the western Pacific also induces a stronger local Walker cell and thus a surface westerly anomaly over the Indian Ocean. This westerly anomaly helps the cold SSTA to persist through the succeeding seasons, leading to a weaker Asian monsoon in the following summer. During northern winter the westerly anomaly associated with the stronger Australian monsoon, through anomalous ocean downwelling and reduction of evaporation (when the seasonal mean wind is easterly), reinvigorates the warm SSTA in the western Pacific, which has been weakened by the slow cold advection from the eastern Pacific. This further intensifies the eastern Walker cell and helps to keep the eastern Pacific cold.

The authors’ theory indicates that the TBO is an inherent result of the interactions between northern summer and winter monsoon and the tropical Indian and Pacific Oceans. Thus, it is an important component of the tropical ocean–atmosphere interaction system, separate from the El Niño–Southern Oscillation. While the eastern Pacific plays only a passive role in this mechanism, the western Pacific–Maritime Continent region is crucially important. It serves as a bridge in space and time, both in connecting the convection anomaly from the northern summer to the northern winter monsoon and in channeling the feedback of the northern winter monsoon to the Indian Ocean.

Corresponding author address: Dr. C.-P. Chang, Department of Meteorology, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA 93493-5100.

Email: cpchang@nps.navy.mil

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