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date: 13 December 2019

Predictability of Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD)

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.

The tropical Indian Ocean is unique in several aspects. Unlike the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans, the Indian Ocean is bounded to the north by a large landmass, the Eurasian continent. The large thermal heat contrast between the ocean in the south and the land in the north induces the world’s strongest monsoon systems in South and East Asia, in response to the seasonal migration of solar radiation. The strong and seasonally reversing surface winds generate large seasonal variations in ocean currents and basin-wide meridional heat transport across the equator. In contrast to the tropical Pacific and the Atlantic, where easterly trade winds prevail throughout the year, westerly winds (albeit with a relatively weak magnitude) blow along the equatorial Indian Ocean, particularly during the boreal spring and autumn seasons, generating the semi-annual Yoshida-Wyrtki eastward equatorial ocean currents. As a consequence of the lack of equatorial upwelling, the tropical Indian Ocean occupies the largest portion of the warm water pool (with Sea Surface Temperature [SST] being greater than 28 °C) on Earth. The massive warm water provides a huge potential energy available for deep convections that significantly affect the weather-climate over the globe. It is therefore of vital importance to discover and understand climate variabilities in the Indian Ocean and to further develop a capability to correctly predict the seasonal departures of the warm waters and their global teleconnections.

The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is the one of the recently discovered climate variables in the tropical Indian Ocean. During the development of the super El Niño in 1997, the climatological zonal SST gradient along the equator was much reduced (with strong cold SST anomalies in the east and warm anomalies in the west). The surface westerly winds switched to easterlies, and the ocean thermocline became shallow in the east and deep in the west. These features are reminiscent of what are observed during El Niño years in the Pacific, representing a typical coupled process between the ocean and the atmosphere. The IOD event in 1997 contributed significantly to floods in eastern Africa and severe droughts and bushfires in Indonesia and southeastern Australia. Since the discovery of the 1997 IOD event, extensive efforts have been made to lead the rapid progress in understanding the air-sea coupled climate variabilities in the Indian Ocean; and many approaches, including simple statistical models and comprehensive ocean-atmosphere coupled models, have been developed to simulate and predict the Indian Ocean climate.

Essential to the discussion are the ocean-atmosphere dynamics underpinning the seasonal predictability of the IOD, critical factors that limit the IOD predictability (inter-comparison with El Niño-Southern Oscillation [ENSO]), observations and initialization approaches that provide realistic initial conditions for IOD predictions, models and approaches that have been developed to simulate and predict the IOD, the influence of global warming on the IOD predictability, impacts of IOD-ENSO interactions on the IOD predictability, and the current status and perspectives of the IOD prediction at seasonal to multi-annual timescales.