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Lisa Goddard, James W. Hurrell, Benjamin P. Kirtman, James Murphy, Timothy Stockdale, and Carolina Vera
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Michael J. McPhaden, Axel Timmermann, Matthew J. Widlansky, Magdalena A. Balmaseda, and Timothy N. Stockdale


Forty years ago, Klaus Wyrtki of the University of Hawaii launched an “El Niño Watch” expedition to the eastern equatorial Pacific to document oceanographic changes that were expected to develop during the onset of an El Niño event in early 1975. He and his colleagues used a very simple atmospheric pressure index to predict the event and convinced the National Science Foundation and Office of Naval Research to support an expedition to the eastern Pacific on relatively short notice. An anomalous warming was detected during the first half of the expedition, but it quickly dissipated. Given the state of the art in El Niño research at the time, Wyrtki and colleagues could offer no explanation for why the initial warming failed to amplify, nor could they connect what they observed to what was happening in other parts of the basin prior to and during the expedition. With the benefit of hindsight, the authors provide a basin-scale context for what the expedition observed, elucidate the dynamical processes that gave rise to the abbreviated warming that was detected, and present retrospective forecasts of the event using modern coupled ocean–atmosphere dynamical model prediction systems. Reviewing this history highlights how early pioneers in El Niño research, despite the obstacles they faced, were able to make significant progress through bold initiatives that advanced the frontiers of our knowledge. It is also evident that, even though the scientific community today has a much deeper understanding of climate variability, more advanced observational capabilities, and sophisticated seasonal forecasting tools, skillful predictions of El Niño and its cold counterpart La Niña remain a major challenge.

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Amy Solomon, Lisa Goddard, Arun Kumar, James Carton, Clara Deser, Ichiro Fukumori, Arthur M. Greene, Gabriele Hegerl, Ben Kirtman, Yochanan Kushnir, Matthew Newman, Doug Smith, Dan Vimont, Tom Delworth, Gerald A. Meehl, and Timothy Stockdale


Given that over the course of the next 10–30 years the magnitude of natural decadal variations may rival that of anthropogenically forced climate change on regional scales, it is envisioned that initialized decadal predictions will provide important information for climate-related management and adaptation decisions. Such predictions are presently one of the grand challenges for the climate community. This requires identifying those physical phenomena—and their model equivalents—that may provide additional predictability on decadal time scales, including an assessment of the physical processes through which anthropogenic forcing may interact with or project upon natural variability. Such a physical framework is necessary to provide a consistent assessment (and insight into potential improvement) of the decadal prediction experiments planned to be assessed as part of the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report.

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Decadal Prediction

Can It Be Skillful?

Gerald A. Meehl, Lisa Goddard, James Murphy, Ronald J. Stouffer, George Boer, Gokhan Danabasoglu, Keith Dixon, Marco A. Giorgetta, Arthur M. Greene, Ed Hawkins, Gabriele Hegerl, David Karoly, Noel Keenlyside, Masahide Kimoto, Ben Kirtman, Antonio Navarra, Roger Pulwarty, Doug Smith, Detlef Stammer, and Timothy Stockdale

A new field of study, “decadal prediction,” is emerging in climate science. Decadal prediction lies between seasonal/interannual forecasting and longer-term climate change projections, and focuses on time-evolving regional climate conditions over the next 10–30 yr. Numerous assessments of climate information user needs have identified this time scale as being important to infrastructure planners, water resource managers, and many others. It is central to the information portfolio required to adapt effectively to and through climatic changes. At least three factors influence time-evolving regional climate at the decadal time scale: 1) climate change commitment (further warming as the coupled climate system comes into adjustment with increases of greenhouse gases that have already occurred), 2) external forcing, particularly from future increases of greenhouse gases and recovery of the ozone hole, and 3) internally generated variability. Some decadal prediction skill has been demonstrated to arise from the first two of these factors, and there is evidence that initialized coupled climate models can capture mechanisms of internally generated decadal climate variations, thus increasing predictive skill globally and particularly regionally. Several methods have been proposed for initializing global coupled climate models for decadal predictions, all of which involve global time-evolving three-dimensional ocean data, including temperature and salinity. An experimental framework to address decadal predictability/prediction is described in this paper and has been incorporated into the coordinated Coupled Model Intercomparison Model, phase 5 (CMIP5) experiments, some of which will be assessed for the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). These experiments will likely guide work in this emerging field over the next 5 yr.

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