The Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) is the most prominent form of tropical intraseasonal variability. This study investigated the following questions. Do interannual-to-decadal variations in tropical sea surface temperature (SST) lead to substantial changes in MJO activity? Was there a change in the MJO in the 1970s? Can this change be associated to SST anomalies? What was the level of MJO activity in the pre-reanalysis era? These questions were investigated with a stochastic model of the MJO. Reanalysis data (1948–2008) were used to develop a nine-state first order Markov model capable to simulate the non-stationarity of the MJO. The model is driven by observed SST anomalies and a large ensemble of simulations was performed to infer the activity of the MJO in the instrumental period (1880–2008). The model is capable to reproduce the activity of the MJO during the reanalysis period. The simulations indicate that the MJO exhibited a regime of near normal activity in 1948–1972 (3.4 events year−1) and two regimes of high activity in 1973–1989 (3.9 events) and 1990–2008 (4.6 events). Stochastic simulations indicate decadal shifts with near normal levels in 1880–1895 (3.4 events), low activity in 1896–1917 (2.6 events) and a return to near normal levels during 1918–1947 (3.3 events). The results also point out to significant decadal changes in probabilities of very active years (5 or more MJO events): 0.214 (1880–1895), 0.076 (1896–1917), 0.197 (1918–1947) and 0.193 (1948–1972). After a change in behavior in the 1970s, this probability has increased to 0.329 (1973–1989) and 0.510 (1990–2008). The observational and stochastic simulations presented here call attention to the need to further understand the variability of the MJO on a wide range of time scales.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.