Primary and successive events in the Madden–Julian Oscillation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

205 Citations (Scopus)
15 Downloads (Pure)


Conventional analyses of the MJO tend to produce a repeating cycle, such that any particular feature cannot be unambiguously attributed to the current or previous event. We take advantage of the sporadic nature of the MJO and classify each observed Madden-Julian (MJ) event as either primary, with no immediately preceding MJ event, or successive, which does immediately follow a preceding event. 40% of MJ events are primary events. Precursor features of the primary events can be unambiguously attributed to that event. A suppressed convective anomaly grows and decays in situ over the Indian Ocean, prior to the start of most primary MJ events. An associated mid-tropospheric temperature anomaly destabilises the atmosphere, leading to the generation of the active MJ event. Hence, primary MJ events appear to be thermodynamically triggered by a previous dry period, although stochastic forcing may also be important. Other theories predict that boundary-layer convergence, humidity, propagation of dynamical structures around the Equator, sea surface temperatures, and lateral forcing by extratropical transients may all be important in triggering an event. Although precursor signals from these mechanisms are diagnosed from reanalysis and satellite observational data in the successive MJ events, they are all absent in the primary MJ events. Hence, it appears that these apparent precursor signals are part of the MJO once it is established, but do not play a role in the spontaneous generation of the MJO. The most frequent starting location of the primary events is the Indian Ocean, but over half of them start elsewhere, from the maritime continent to the western Pacific.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)439-453
Number of pages15
JournalQuarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
Issue number631
Publication statusPublished - 2008

Cite this