• ENSO cycle;
  • South China Sea monsoon onset;
  • ocean heat content


This paper investigates the relationship between the onset date of the South China Sea summer monsoon (SCSSM) and the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The monsoon onset date (MOD) is defined on the basis of the switch of the 850-hPa zonal winds over the South China Sea (SCS) from easterly to westerly for two consecutive pentads. The ENSO signal is represented by the ocean heat content (OHC), which is proportional to the depth of the 20 °C isotherm.

It is found that, in years associated with a warm (cold) ENSO event or the year after, the monsoon tends to have a late (an early) onset and the intensity of the SCSSM also tends to be weaker (stronger). During a 2-year period prior to the onset, anomalies of OHC have an obvious eastward propagation. The 850-hPa flow east of the Philippines, specifically the strength of the subtropical high, is also found to be critical in determining the MOD. The link between these two results appears to be the propagation of cold (warm) subsurface water into the western North Pacific (WNP), which strengthens (weakens) the subtropical high, and hence a late (an early) SCSSM onset. Copyright © 2006 Royal Meteorological Society.