The role of the Indian Ocean sector and sea surface salinity for prediction of the coupled Indo-Pacific system

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The purpose of this dissertation is to evaluate the potential downstream influence of the Indian Ocean (IO) on El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) forecasts through the oceanic pathway of the Indonesian Throughflow (ITF), atmospheric teleconnections between the IO and Pacific, and assimilation of IO observations. Also the impact of sea surface salinity (SSS) in the Indo-Pacific region is assessed to try to address known problems with operational coupled model precipitation forecasts. The ITF normally drains warm fresh water from the Pacific reducing the mixed layer depths (MLD). A shallower MLD amplifies large-scale oceanic Kelvin/Rossby waves thus giving ~10% larger response and more realistic ENSO sea surface temperature (SST) variability compared to observed when the ITF is open. In order to isolate the impact of the IO sector atmospheric teleconnections to ENSO, experiments are contrasted that selectively couple/decouple the interannual forcing in the IO. The interannual variability of IO SST forcing is responsible for 3 month lagged widespread downwelling in the Pacific, assisted by off-equatorial curl, leading to warmer NINO3 SST anomaly and improved ENSO validation (significant from 3-9 months). Isolating the impact of observations in the IO sector using regional assimilation identifies large-scale warming in the IO that acts to intensify the easterlies of the Walker circulation and increases pervasive upwelling across the Pacific, cooling the eastern Pacific, and improving ENSO validation (r ~ 0.05, RMS~0.08C). Lastly, the positive impact of more accurate fresh water forcing is demonstrated to address inadequate precipitation forecasts in operational coupled models. Aquarius SSS assimilation improves the mixed layer density and enhances mixing, setting off upwelling that eventually cools the eastern Pacific after 6 months, counteracting the pervasive warming of most coupled models and significantly improving ENSO validation from 5-11 months. In summary, the ITF oceanic pathway, the atmospheric teleconnection, the impact of observations in the IO, and improved Indo-Pacific SSS are all responsible for ENSO forecast improvements, and so each aspect of this study contributes to a better overall understanding of ENSO. Therefore, the upstream influence of the IO should be thought of as integral to the functioning of ENSO phenomenon.