Forecasts of El Nino climate events are routinely provided and distributed, but the limits of El Nino predictability are still the subject of debate. Some recent studies suggest that the predictability is largely limited by the effects of high-frequency atmospheric 'noise'(1-7), whereas others emphasize limitations arising from the growth of initial errors in model simulations(8-10). Here we present retrospective forecasts of the interannual climate fluctuations in the tropical Pacific Ocean for the period 1857 to 2003, using a coupled ocean-atmosphere model. The model successfully predicts all prominent El Nino events within this period at lead times of up to two years. Our analysis suggests that the evolution of El Nino is controlled to a larger degree by self-sustaining internal dynamics than by stochastic forcing. Model-based prediction of El Nino therefore depends more on the initial conditions than on unpredictable atmospheric noise. We conclude that throughout the past century, El Nino has been more predictable than previously envisaged.
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