ENSO theory

J. David Neelin, David S. Battisti, Anthony C. Hirst, Fei Fei Jin, Yoshinobu Wakata, Toshio Yamagata, Stephen E. Zebiak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

804 Citations (Scopus)


Beginning from the hypothesis by Bjerknes [1969] that ocean-atmosphere interaction was essential to the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon, the Tropical Ocean-Global Atmosphere (TOGA) decade has not only confirmed this but has supplied detailed theory for mechanisms setting the underlying period and possible mechanisms responsible for the irregularity of ENSO. Essentials of the theory of ocean dynamical adjustment are reviewed from an ENSO perspective. Approaches to simple atmospheric modeling greatly aided development of theory for ENSO atmospheric feedbacks but are critically reviewed for current stumbling blocks for applications beyond ENSO. ENSO theory has benefitted from an unusually complete hierarchy of coupled models of various levels of complexity. Most of the progress during the ENSO decade came from models of intermediate complexity, which are sufficiently detailed to compare to observations and to use in prediction but are less complex than coupled general circulation models. ENSO theory in simple models lagged behind ENSO simulation in intermediate models but has provided a useful role in uniting seemingly diverse viewpoints. The process of boiling ENSO theory down to a single consensus model of all aspects of the phenomenon is still a rapidly progressing area, and theoretical limits to ENSO predictability are still in debate, but a thorough foundation for the discussion has been established in the TOGA decade.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14261-14290
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue numberC7
Publication statusPublished - Jun 29 1998

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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