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Asymmetry in the IOD and ENSO Teleconnection in a CMIP5 Model Ensemble and Its Relevance to Regional Rainfall

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  • 1 CSIRO Water for a Healthy Country Flagship, CSIRO Wealth from Oceans National Research Flagship, Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Aspendale, Victoria, Australia
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Abstract

Recent studies have shown that the impact of the Indian Ocean dipole (IOD) on southern Australia occurs via equivalent barotropic Rossby wave trains triggered by convective heating in the tropical Indian Ocean. Furthermore, the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) influence on southern Australian climate is exerted through the same pathway during austral spring. It is also noted that positive phase [positive IOD (pIOD) and El Niño] events have a much larger impact associated with their respective skewness. These phenomena play a significant role in the region's rainfall reduction in recent decades, and it is essential that climate models used for future projections simulate these features. Here, the authors demonstrate that climate models do indeed simulate a greater climatic impact on Australia for pIOD events than for negative IOD (nIOD) events, but this asymmetric impact is distorted by an exaggerated influence of La Niña emanating from the Pacific. The distortion results from biases in the Pacific in two respects. First, the tropical and extratropical response to La Niña is situated unrealistically too far westward and hence too close to Australia, leading to an overly strong impact on southeast Australia that shows up through the nIOD–La Niña coherence. Second, the majority of models simulate a positive sea surface temperature skewness in the eastern Pacific that is too weak, overestimating the impact of La Niña relative to that of El Niño. As such, the impact of the positive asymmetry in the IOD only becomes apparent when the impact of ENSO is removed. This model bias needs to be taken into account when analyzing projections of regional Australian climate change.

Corresponding author address: Evan Weller, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, PMB 1, Aspendale, VIC 3195, Australia. E-mail: evan.weller@csiro.au

Abstract

Recent studies have shown that the impact of the Indian Ocean dipole (IOD) on southern Australia occurs via equivalent barotropic Rossby wave trains triggered by convective heating in the tropical Indian Ocean. Furthermore, the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) influence on southern Australian climate is exerted through the same pathway during austral spring. It is also noted that positive phase [positive IOD (pIOD) and El Niño] events have a much larger impact associated with their respective skewness. These phenomena play a significant role in the region's rainfall reduction in recent decades, and it is essential that climate models used for future projections simulate these features. Here, the authors demonstrate that climate models do indeed simulate a greater climatic impact on Australia for pIOD events than for negative IOD (nIOD) events, but this asymmetric impact is distorted by an exaggerated influence of La Niña emanating from the Pacific. The distortion results from biases in the Pacific in two respects. First, the tropical and extratropical response to La Niña is situated unrealistically too far westward and hence too close to Australia, leading to an overly strong impact on southeast Australia that shows up through the nIOD–La Niña coherence. Second, the majority of models simulate a positive sea surface temperature skewness in the eastern Pacific that is too weak, overestimating the impact of La Niña relative to that of El Niño. As such, the impact of the positive asymmetry in the IOD only becomes apparent when the impact of ENSO is removed. This model bias needs to be taken into account when analyzing projections of regional Australian climate change.

Corresponding author address: Evan Weller, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, PMB 1, Aspendale, VIC 3195, Australia. E-mail: evan.weller@csiro.au
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