National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2021

A review of contemporary MJO theories

Yang, D., A. Adames, B. Khouider, B. Wang, and C. Zhang

Chapter 19 in The Multi-Scale Global Monsoon System, C.-P. Chang, K.-J. Ha, R.H. Johnson, D. Kim, G.N.C. Lau, and B. Wang (eds.), World Scientific Publishing Company, 233–247, doi: 10.1142/9789811216602_0019, View details online (2021)

The Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) is a planetary-scale subseasonal rainfall pattern that initiates in the Indian Ocean and slowly propagates eastward at about 5m s−1. The reasons for its slow eastward propagation speed and large spatial scale have remained elusive. Our lack of understanding of the MJO ranks among the most important problems in tropical meteorology. Several theories have been proposed to explain the MJO dynamical and physical features. Here, four contemporary MJO theories are reviewed and compared. The four theories are the gravity wave theory, the triointeraction theory, the moisture wave theory, and the skeleton theory. We describe the essential ingredients and assumptions of the four theories and discuss their success and limitations.

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