CVP News

A new method to improve simulations of the Madden-Julian Oscillation

  • 7 March 2017
  • Number of views: 939
A new method to improve simulations of the Madden-Julian Oscillation

MJO is an eastward moving disturbance of clouds and rain near the equator that travels around the planet every 30-60 days. (Credit: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

A study in the Journal of Climate proposes a new method to improve simulation and prediction of the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO)

Many models have limited skill in simulating the MJO’s eastward movement across the globe. Researchers of this study evaluated models used in a recent model intercomparison project to determine which ones can best simulate this eastward movement and why. They found that a model’s ability to successfully simulate this movement depends on whether the model captures atmospheric response in areas of light rain following intense storms. 

As the MJO moves across the Indian Ocean to the tropical Pacific, it can increase the chance of extreme events such as cold spells, heat waves, and heavy precipitation over the United States. 

This study was supported by the Modeling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projections (MAPP) Program.

Read the paper


This study investigates the fundamental causes of differences in the Madden-Julian oscillation (MJO) eastward propagation among models that participated in a recent model inter-comparison project. These models are categorized into good and poor groups characterized by prominent eastward propagation and non-propagation, respectively. Column integrated moist static energy (MSE) budgets are diagnosed for the good and the poor models. It is found that a zonal asymmetry in the MSE tendency, characteristic of eastward MJO propagation, occurs in the good group, while such an asymmetry does not exist in the poor group. The difference arises mainly from anomalous vertical and horizontal MSE advection. The former is attributed to the zonal asymmetry of upper-middle tropospheric vertical velocity anomalies acting on background MSE vertical gradient; the latter is mainly attributed to the asymmetric zonal distribution of low-tropospheric meridional wind anomalies advecting background MSE/moisture field. Based on the diagnosis above, a new mechanism for MJO eastward propagation that emphasizes the second-baroclinic-mode vertical velocity is proposed.A set of atmospheric general circulation model experiments with prescribed diabatic heating profiles were conducted to investigate the causes of different anomalous circulations between the good and the poor models. The numerical experiments reveal that the presence of a stratiform heating at the rear of MJO convection is responsible for the zonal asymmetry of vertical velocity anomaly and is important to strengthening lower-tropospheric poleward flows to the east of MJO convection. Thus, a key to improve the poor models is to correctly reproduce the stratiform heating. The roles of Rossby and Kelvin wave components in MJO propagation are particularly discussed.





Climate Program Office
1315 East-West Hwy, Suite 1100
Silver Spring, MD 20910


Americans’ health, security and economic wellbeing are tied to climate and weather. Every day, we see communities grappling with environmental challenges due to unusual or extreme events related to climate and weather. In 2011, the United States experienced a record high number (14) of climate- and weather-related disasters where overall costs reached or exceeded $1 billion. Combined, these events claimed 670 lives, caused more than 6,000 injuries, and cost $55 billion in damages. Businesses, policy leaders, resource managers and citizens are increasingly asking for information to help them address such challenges.