On the influence of the Bay of Bengal's sea surface temperature gradients on rainfall of the South Asian monsoon

Peter M. F. Sheehan, Adrian J. Matthews, Benjamin G. M. Webber, Alejandra Sanchez-Franks, Nicholas M. Klingaman, P. N. Vinayachandran

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The southwest monsoon delivers over 70% of India's annual rainfall and is crucial to the success of agriculture across much of South Asia. Monsoon precipitation is known to be sensitive to sea surface temperature (SST) in the Bay of Bengal (BoB). Here, we use a configuration of the Unified Model of the UK Met Office coupled to an ocean mixed layer model to investigate the role of upper-ocean features in the BoB on southwest monsoon precipitation. We focus on the pronounced zonal and meridional SST gradients characteristic of the BoB; the zonal gradient in particular has an as-yet unknown effect on monsoon rainfall. We find that the zonal SST gradient is responsible for a 50% decrease in in rainfall over the southern BoB (approximately 5 mm day-1), and a 50% increase in rainfall over Bangladesh and northern India (approximately 1 mm day-1). This increase is remotely forced by a strengthening of the monsoon Hadley circulation. The meridional SST gradient acts to decrease precipitation over the BoB itself, similarly to the zonal SST gradient, but does not have comparable effects over land. The impacts of barrier layers and high-salinity sub-surface water are also investigated, but neither has significant effects on monsoon precipitation in this model; the influence of barrier layers on precipitation is felt in the months after the southwest monsoon. Models should accurately represent oceanic processes that directly influence BoB SST, such as the BoB cold pool, in order to faithfully represent monsoon rainfall.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6499–6513
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number18
Early online date25 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sep 2023


  • Atmosphere-ocean interaction
  • General circulation models
  • Indian Ocean
  • Monsoons
  • Rainfall
  • Sea surface temperature

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