Statistical relationships between the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation and El Niño–Southern Oscillation

Publication Name

Climate Dynamics


The climate of the Pacific Ocean varies on interannual, decadal, and longer timescales. This variability is dominated by the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO), both of which have profound impacts on countries within and well beyond the Pacific. To date, previous studies have only examined a small subset of the possible links between ENSO, its diversity, and the IPO. Here we focus on the statistical relationship between decadal variability in ENSO properties and the IPO, testing the null hypothesis that the IPO arises from random decadal changes in ENSO activity, including ENSO diversity. We use observed sea surface temperature (SST) records since 1920 to investigate how the timing, structure, frequency, duration, and magnitude of El Niño and La Niña events differ between IPO phases. We find that using the relative frequency of El Niño and La Niña events and either the mean event duration or SST magnitude can reproduce up to 60% of the IPO Tripole Index timeseries. While the spatial SST patterns that represent the IPO and ENSO are similar, the IPO is meridionally broader in the central to eastern Pacific, which may be caused by a lagged relationship with low-frequency SST variability in the equatorial Pacific. In addition, North Pacific SST anomalies of opposite sign to the tropical Pacific SST anomalies is a unique feature of the IPO that cannot be explained by decadal ENSO variability. This suggests a clear IPO and ENSO relationship, but also independence in some of the IPO’s characteristics.

Open Access Status

This publication may be available as open access

Funding Sponsor

Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation



Link to publisher version (DOI)