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  • Author or Editor: Aihong Zhong x
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Aihong Zhong
Harry H. Hendon
, and
Oscar Alves


The evolution of the Indian Ocean during El Niño–Southern Oscillation is investigated in a 100-yr integration of an Australian Bureau of Meteorology coupled seasonal forecast model. During El Niño, easterly anomalies are induced across the eastern equatorial Indian Ocean. These act to suppress the equatorial thermocline to the west and elevate it to the east and initially cool (warm) the sea surface temperature (SST) in the east (west). Subsequently, the entire Indian Ocean basin warms, mainly in response to the reduced latent heat flux and enhanced shortwave radiation that is associated with suppressed rainfall. This evolution can be partially explained by the excitation of an intrinsic coupled mode that involves a feedback between anomalous equatorial easterlies and zonal gradients in SST and rainfall. This positive feedback develops in the boreal summer and autumn seasons when the mean thermocline is shallow in the eastern equatorial Indian Ocean in response to trade southeasterlies. This positive feedback diminishes once the climatological surface winds become westerly at the onset of the Australian summer monsoon.

ENSO is the leading mechanism that excites this coupled mode, but not all ENSO events are efficient at exciting it. During the typical El Niño (La Niña) event, easterly (westerly) anomalies are not induced until after boreal autumn, which is too late in the annual cycle to instigate strong dynamical coupling. Only those ENSO events that develop early (i.e., before boreal summer) instigate a strong coupled response in the Indian Ocean. The coupled mode can also be initiated in early boreal summer by an equatorward shift of the subtropical ridge in the southern Indian Ocean, which stems from uncoupled extratropical variability.

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