Teleconnection Pathways of ENSO and the IOD and the Mechanisms for Impacts on Australian Rainfall

Wenju Cai*, Peter van Rensch, Tim Cowan, Harry H. Hendon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Impacts of El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Indian Ocean dipole (IOD) on Australian rainfall are diagnosed from the perspective of tropical and extratropical teleconnections triggered by tropical sea surface temperature (SST) variations. The tropical teleconnection is understood as the equatorially trapped, deep baroclinic response to the diabatic (convective) heating anomalies induced by the tropical SST anomalies. These diabatic heating anomalies also excite equivalent barotropic Rossby wave trains that propagate into the extratropics. The main direct tropical teleconnection during ENSO is the Southern Oscillation (SO), whose impact on Australian rainfall is argued to be mainly confined to near-tropical portions of eastern Australia. Rainfall is suppressed during El Nino because near-tropical eastern Australia directly experiences subsidence and higher surface pressure associated with the western pole of the SO. Impacts on extratropical Australian rainfall during El Nino are argued to stem primarily from the Rossby wave trains forced by convective variations in the Indian Ocean, for which the IOD is a primary source of variability. These equivalent-barotropic Rossby wave trains emanating from the Indian Ocean induce changes to the midlatitude westerlies across southern Australia, thereby affecting rainfall through changes in mean-state baroclinicity, west-east steering, and possibly orographic effects. Although the IOD does not mature until austral spring, its impact on Australian rainfall during winter is also ascribed to this mechanism. Because ENSO is largely unrelated to the IOD during austral winter, there is limited impact of ENSO on rainfall across southern latitudes of Australia in winter. A strong impact of ENSO on southern Australia rainfall in spring is ascribed to the strong covariation of ENSO and the IOD in this season. Implications of this pathway from the tropical Indian Ocean for impacts of both the IOD and ENSO on southern Australian climate are discussed with regard to the ability to make seasonal climate predictions and with regard to the role of trends in tropical SST for driving trends in Australian climate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3910-3923
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2011
Externally publishedYes


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