Role of the atmospheric mean state on the initiation of the Madden-Julian oscillation in a tropical channel model

Pallav Ray, Chidong Zhang, Mitchell W. Moncrieff, Jim Dudhia, Julie M. Caron, L. Ruby Leung, Cindy Bruyere

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Tropical channel models, defined as models that are global in the zonal direction but bounded in the meridional direction, are particularly useful for simulating the Madden-Julian oscillation (MJO) and understanding its physical and dynamical basis. Influences from the extratropics through the lateral boundaries have been found to be essential to the reproduction of the initiation of certain MJO events. This led to a hypothesis that multi-year simulations using a tropical channel model would reproduce reasonable MJO statistics under the influence of prescribed lateral boundary conditions derived from global reanalyses. Interestingly, the MJO statistics in such a multi-year simulation by a high-resolution tropical channel model are not better than those from global climate models. The error in the atmospheric mean state is found to be a possible reason for the poor MJO statistics in the simulation. Nevertheless, even with a large error in the mean state, the multi-year simulation captures two MJO events previously found to be initiated by extratropical influences. However, the model does not reproduce a third event, whose initiation is not directly influenced by the extratropics. This implies that in the absence of dynamical interactions between the MJO and the lateral boundary conditions, the error in the mean state could be sufficient to prevent the MJO initiation. To explore this third MJO event further, a series of sensitivity tests are conducted. These tests show that the simulation of this event is neither critically influenced by the cumulus parameterization employed, nor the initial conditions when the model is integrated 2 weeks prior to the MJO initiation. The model captures this event when the MJO signal is already present in the initial conditions. The use of high-resolution sea surface temperature does not improve the simulation of the third MJO event. A higher-resolution nested domain covering the Indo-Pacific warm pool region and including a cloud-system resolving domain over the Indonesian Maritime Continent has little effect on the MJO initiation over the Indian Ocean. In <2 weeks the error in the simulation is comparable to the climate error. The role of the simulated MJO on the mean state is also explored. Implications and limitations of these results are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-184
Number of pages24
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2011


  • Extratropical influence
  • Intraseasonal variability
  • Madden-Julian oscillation
  • Mean state
  • Tropical channel model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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