Roundy P. E. and G. N. Kiladis (October 2006): Observed relationships between oceanic Kelvin waves and atmospheric forcing. J. Climate, 19 (20), 5253-5272. doi:10.1175/JCLI3893.1

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The Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) has been implicated as a major source of the wind stress variability that generates basin-scale Kelvin waves in the equatorial Pacific. One source of debate concerning this relationship is the apparent difference in the frequencies of the two processes. This work utilizes data from the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) array of moored buoys along with outgoing longwave radiation data to show by means of a multiple linear regression model and case studies that the frequency discrepancy is due to a systematic decrease in the phase speeds of the Kelvin waves and an increase in the period of the waves toward the east as conditions adjust toward El Niño. Among the potential contributing factors to this phase speed decrease is an apparent air–sea interaction that enhances the wind forcing of some of the Kelvin waves, allowing them to continue to amplify because the propagating wind stress anomaly decelerates to the speed of the developing Kelvin wave instead of the significantly faster speed of the typical MJO. Kelvin waves appear to be most effectively amplified during periods when the temperature gradient above the thermocline across the equatorial central Pacific is strong, the thermocline shoals steeply toward the east in the central Pacific, and/or when the phase speed of the propagating wind stress forcing is closest to that of the Kelvin wave. These conditions tend to occur as the ocean adjusts toward El Niño. Since Kelvin waves are instrumental to the development of El Niño events, isolating the detailed relationship between the waves and the MJO will lead to a better understanding of interannual ocean–atmosphere interactions.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: PSD Publications
Divisions: Physical Sciences Division
DOI: 10.1175/JCLI3893.1