IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis ENSO-Monsoon Relationship

The El Niño-Southern Oscillation affects interannual variability throughout the tropics through changes in the Walker Circulation. Analysis of observational data finds a significant correlation between ENSO and tropical circulation and precipitation such that there is a tendency for less Indian summer monsoon rainfall in El Niño years and above normal rainfall in La Niña years. Recent analyses have revealed that the correlation between ENSO and the Indian summer monsoon has decreased recently, and many hypotheses have been put forward (see Chapter 3). With respect to global warming, one hypothesis is that the Walker Circulation (accompanying ENSO) shifted south-eastward, reducing downward motion in the Indian monsoon region, which originally suppressed precipitation in that region at the time of El Niño, but now produces normal precipitation as a result (Krishna Kumar et al., 1999). Another explanation is that as the ground temperature of the Eurasian continent has risen in the winter-spring season, the temperature difference between the continent and the ocean has increased, thereby causing more precipitation, and the Indian monsoon is normal in spite of the occurrence of El Niño (Ashrit et al., 2001).

An earlier version of an AOGCM developed at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) (Ashrit et al., 2001) and the Action de Recherche Petite Echelle Grande Echelle/Océan Parallélisé (ARPEGE/OPA) model (Ashrit et al., 2003) simulated no global-warming related change in the ENSO-monsoon relationship, although a decadal-scale fluctuation is seen, suggesting that a weakening of the relationship might be part of the natural variability. However, Ashrit et al. (2001) show that while the impact of La Niña does not change, the influence of El Niño on the monsoon becomes small, suggesting the possibility of asymmetric behaviour of the changes in the ENSO-monsoon relationship. On the other hand, the MRI-CGCM2 (see Table 8.1 for model details) indicates a weakening of the correlation into the 21st century, particularly after 2050 (Ashrit et al., 2005). The MRI-CGCM2 model results support the above hypothesis that the Walker Circulation shifts eastward and no longer influences India at the time of El Niño in a warmer climate. Camberlin et al. (2004) and van Oldenborgh and Burgers (2005) find decadal fluctuations in the effect of ENSO on regional precipitation. In most cases, these fluctuations may reflect natural variability in the ENSO teleconnection, and long-term correlation trends may be comparatively weaker.

The Tropospheric Biennial Oscillation (TBO) has been suggested as a fundamental set of coupled interactions in the Indo-Pacific region that encompasses ENSO and the Asian-Australian monsoon, and the TBO has been shown to be simulated by current AOGCMs (see Chapter 8). Nanjundiah et al. (2005) analyse a multi-model data set to show that, for models that successfully simulate the TBO for present-day climate, the TBO becomes more prominent in a future warmer climate due to changes in the base state climate, although, as with ENSO, there is considerable inherent decadal variability in the relative dominance of TBO and ENSO.

In summary, the ENSO-monsoon relationship can vary due to natural variability. Model projections suggest that a future weakening of the ENSO-monsoon relationship could occur in a future warmer climate.