Study Discloses an Intrinsic Upper-Ocean Temperature Variability in the Tropical Indian Ocean


The Indian Ocean dipole (IOD), discovered at the very end of the 20th century, is an irregular oscillation of sea surface temperatures in which the western Indian Ocean becomes alternately warmer and then colder than the eastern part of the ocean. IOD has been widely studied as the dominant mode of sea surface temperature anomalies over the tropical Indian Ocean (TIO) because it plays an active role in regional and global climate on the seasonal and interannual timescales. Since the air-sea coupling processes associated with IOD are modulated by the upper-ocean thermal structure, the subsurface variability in the TIO is now a topic of prime importance.

Recently, researchers from China and U.S.A. did a series of studies concerning the subsurface variability and further identified an inherent oscillation with a quasi-regular period around 15 months in the TIO subsurface temperature, which forms the baseline of the IOD variability.

The researchers provided a deep analysis of the peak phases in this equatorial oscillation that is characterized by a subsurface east-west dipole pattern called subsurface Indian Ocean dipole (Sub-IOD). Most Sub-IOD events co-occur with a surface IOD in autumn. However, some Sub-IOD events still can develop in winter-to-spring independent of the surface IOD. These Sub-IOD events are closely connected to the western-type Central Pacific El Nino–Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

"Our results may advance our understanding of the interactions between the surface and subsurface, as well as the remote influences from different ENSO events on their occurrence, and improve future projections of the IOD and its effects on the Earth's climate." said SONG Ge, the lead author with the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Schematic diagram of the linkage between a positive Sub-IOD and a western-type CP El Nino in the boreal winter-to-spring. (Image by SONG Ge)

These studies have been published in Journal of Climate and Geophysical Research Letters.



Song, Ge*, Bohua Huang, Rongcai Ren*, and Zeng-Zhen Hu., 2021: Basin-wide connections of upper-ocean temperature variability in the equatorial Indian Ocean. J. Climate, 1-50.


Song, Ge., & Rongcai Ren*, 2022: Linking the subsurface Indian Ocean dipole to Central Pacific ENSO. Geophysical Research Letters, 49, e2021GL096263.



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