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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 May 26;106(21):8417-22. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0903367106. Epub 2009 May 7.

The skeleton of tropical intraseasonal oscillations.

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  • 1Department of Mathematics and Center for Atmosphere Ocean Science, Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University, New York, NY 10012, USA. jonjon@cims.nyu.edu

Abstract

The Madden-Julian oscillation (MJO) is the dominant mode of variability in the tropical atmosphere on intraseasonal timescales and planetary spatial scales. Despite the primary importance of the MJO and the decades of research progress since its original discovery, a generally accepted theory for its essential mechanisms has remained elusive. Here, we present a minimal dynamical model for the MJO that recovers robustly its fundamental features (i.e., its "skeleton") on intraseasonal/planetary scales: (i) the peculiar dispersion relation of d omega/dk approximately = 0, (ii) the slow phase speed of approximately = 5 m/s, and (iii) the horizontal quadrupole vortex structure. This is accomplished here in a model that is neutrally stable on planetary scales; i.e., it is tacitly assumed that the primary instabilities occur on synoptic scales. The key premise of the model is that modulations of synoptic scale wave activity are induced by low-level moisture preconditioning on planetary scales, and they drive the "skeleton" of the MJO through modulated heating. The "muscle" of the MJO--including tilts, vertical structure, etc.--is contributed by other potential upscale transport effects from the synoptic scales.

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