In this paper, results from a pilot study for the South China Sea Monsoon Experiment are reported. Based on analyses of 9 years of pentad and monthly mean data, the climatology of subseasonal features and interannual variability of the Southeast Asian monsoon (SEAM) are documented. The present analysis is focused on the sudden onset of the South China Sea monsoon and its relation to the atmospheric and oceanic processes on the entire Asian monsoon region. It is found that the onset of the SEAM occurs around mid-May, signaling the earliest stage of the entire Asian summer monsoon system. The establishment of monsoon rainfall over the South China Sea is abrupt, being accompanied by substantial changes in the large scale atmospheric circulation and sea surface temperature in the adjacent oceans. The onset and fluctuations of SEAM involve the interaction and metamorphosis of the large scale convection over the Indo-China, the South China Sea and the southern Bay of Bengal. Results show that the onset time of the SEAM differs greatly from one year to another. The delayed (advanced) onset of the monsoon may be related to basin-wide warm (cold) events of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. We also present evidence showing that the SEAM fluctuations in May may foreshadow the development of the full-scale Asian summer monsoon during the subsequent months.
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