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The Madden–Julian Oscillation (MJO) is sporadic, with episodes of cyclical activity interspersed with inactive periods. However, it remains unclear what may trigger a Madden–Julian (MJ) event which is not immediately preceded by any MJO activity: a ‘primary’ MJ event. A combination of case-studies and composite analysis is used to examine the extent to which the triggering of primary MJ events might occur in response to ocean dynamics. The case-studies show that such events can be triggered by the arrival of a downwelling oceanic equatorial Rossby wave, which is shown to be associated with a deepening of the mixed layer and positive sea-surface temperature (SST) anomalies of the order of 0.5–1 °C. These SST anomalies are not attributable to forcing by surface fluxes which are weak for the case-studies analysed. Furthermore, composite analysis suggests that such forcing is consistently important for triggering primary events. The relationship is much weaker for successive events, due to the many other triggering mechanisms which operate during periods of cyclical MJO activity. This oceanic feedback mechanism is a viable explanation for the sporadic and broadband nature of the MJO. Additionally, it provides hope for forecasting MJ events during periods of inactivity, when MJO forecasts generally exhibit low skill.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)514-527
Number of pages14
JournalQuarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
Issue number663
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012

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