Thermocline Feedback Influence on Indian Ocean Dipole Skewness

Friday, 19 December 2014
Benjamin Ng1, Wenju Cai1 and Kevin J Walsh2, (1)CSIRO, Aspendale, Australia, (2)University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia
A positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) tends to have stronger cold sea surface temperature anomalies (SSTAs) over the eastern Indian Ocean with greater impacts than warm SSTAs that occur during its negative phase. These impacts from positive IODs range from drought over Australia and Indonesia, to flooding over East Africa and India. Two feedbacks have been suggested as the cause of positive IOD skewness, a positive Bjerknes feedback and a negative SST-cloud-radiation (SCR) feedback, but their relative importance is debated. Using models from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) and inter-model statistics, we show that the most important process for IOD skewness is an asymmetry in the thermocline feedback, whereby SSTAs respond to thermocline depth anomalies more strongly during the positive phase than negative phase. This asymmetric thermocline feedback drives IOD skewness despite positive IODs receiving greater damping from the SCR feedback. In response to global warming, although the thermocline feedback strengthens, its asymmetry between positive and negative IODs weakens. This behaviour change explains the reduction in IOD skewness that many models display under global warming.