Climate Dynamics

, Volume 42, Issue 9–10, pp 2439–2454 | Cite as

Indian Ocean and monsoon coupled interactions in a warming environment

  • Panickal SwapnaEmail author
  • R. Krishnan
  • J. M. Wallace


Several studies have drawn attention to the steady warming of the equatorial and tropical Indian Ocean (IO) sea surface temperature (SST) observed during recent decades. An intriguing aspect of the IO SST warming trend is that it is has been accompanied by a pronounced weakening of the large-scale boreal summer monsoon circulation. Based on a detailed diagnostic analysis of observed datasets, reanalysis products and IPCC AR4 coupled model output, this study examines how the observed changes in the summer monsoon circulation could have contributed to this SST warming trend. The present results reveal that the weakening trend of the summer monsoon cross-equatorial flow has favored a reorientation of surface westerlies towards the equatorial IO during recent decades, relative to summer monsoons of earlier decades, which were dominated by stronger cross-equatorial flow. Our analysis suggests that the weakening of the summer monsoon cross-equatorial flow has in turn significantly accelerated the SST warming in the central equatorial IO. While the trend in the equatorial westerlies has promoted downwelling and thermocline deepening in the eastern equatorial IO, the central equatorial IO warming is attributed to reduced upwelling in response to a weakening trend of the wind-stress curl. The observed trends in Indian monsoon rainfall and the near-equatorial SST warming are shown to be closely related to variations in the meridional gradient of the monsoon zonal winds. An examination of the twentieth century simulations from 22 IPCC AR4 models, suggests that some models capture the recent equatorial IO warming associated with the weakened summer monsoon circulation reasonably well. The individual member models, however, exhibit significant inter-model variations in representing the observed response of the IO and monsoon coupled system.


Indian Ocean warming Equatorial westerlies Weakening of boreal summer monsoon winds 



The authors thank the Director, IITM, for the encouragement and support to carry out this research. We are also grateful to the three anonymous reviewers and the Editor Prof. Jean-Claude Duplessy for providing constructive comments and suggestions. We acknowledge the modeling groups, the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI) and the WCRP’s Working Group on Coupled Modeling (WGCM) for their roles in making available the WCRP CMIP3 multi-model dataset. Support of this dataset is provided by the Office of Science, US Dept. of Energy. This work is supported the Grant No. SR/FTP/ES-23/2008 received from by Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of India. JMW’s support is from the National Science Foundation’s Climate Dynamics Program Office under Grant #1122989.

Supplementary material


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Climate Change ResearchIndian Institute of Tropical MeteorologyPuneIndia
  2. 2.Atmospheric SciencesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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