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Influence of the state of the Indian Ocean Dipole on the following year’s El Niño


El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) consists of irregular episodes of warm El Niño and cold La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean1, with significant global socio-economic and environmental impacts1. Nevertheless, forecasting ENSO at lead times longer than a few months remains a challenge2,3. Like the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean also shows interannual climate fluctuations, which are known as the Indian Ocean Dipole4,5. Positive phases of the Indian Ocean Dipole tend to co-occur with El Niño, and negative phases with La Niña6,7,8,9. Here we show using a simple forecast model that in addition to this link, a negative phase of the Indian Ocean Dipole anomaly is an efficient predictor of El Niño 14 months before its peak, and similarly, a positive phase in the Indian Ocean Dipole often precedes La Niña. Observations and model analyses suggest that the Indian Ocean Dipole modulates the strength of the Walker circulation in autumn. The quick demise of the Indian Ocean Dipole anomaly in November–December then induces a sudden collapse of anomalous zonal winds over the Pacific Ocean, which leads to the development of El Niño/La Niña. Our study suggests that improvements in the observing system in the Indian Ocean region and better simulations of its interannual climate variability will benefit ENSO forecasts.

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Figure 1: IOD index as a precursor of the following year’s ENSO state.
Figure 2: Longitude–time section of Indo-Pacific anomalies associated with a negative IOD.
Figure 3: Longitude–time diagram of equatorial (2 S–2 N) Pacific response to the IOD external forcing, as estimated from a shallow-water model experiment.
Figure 4: Intraseasonal zonal wind stress variations in the western Pacific in December–March after a negative IOD.


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T.I. would like acknowledge and thank his PhD advisor, J. Picaut, who inspired him with knowledge and enthusiasm. P.J. Webster provided constructive comments, which helped us in improving an earlier version of the manuscript. We would like to thank JAMSTEC/RIGC and NIO (India) for their support and hospitality, and NOAA/PMEL for making TAO data and the FERRET analysis tool available. This work was financially supported by JSPS, IRD, the University of Tokyo and IRD/CNRS.

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T.I. carried out most of the analyses and shallow-water experiments with support and advice from J.V. and M.L. T.I., J.V. and M.L. wrote most of the text. C.d.B.M. helped in collecting the data. S.K.B. provided the shallow-water model. J.-J.L. carried out the SINTEX-F model experiments and hindcasts. All authors contributed to the material in this paper through numerous discussions.

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Correspondence to Takeshi Izumo.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Izumo, T., Vialard, J., Lengaigne, M. et al. Influence of the state of the Indian Ocean Dipole on the following year’s El Niño. Nature Geosci 3, 168–172 (2010).

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