Natural modes of variability centred in the tropics, such as the El Niño/Southern Oscillation and the Indian Ocean Dipole, are a significant source of interannual climate variability across the globe. Future climate warming could alter these modes of variability. For example, with the warming projected for the end of the twenty-first century, the mean climate of the tropical Indian Ocean is expected to change considerably. These changes have the potential to affect the Indian Ocean Dipole, currently characterized by an alternation of anomalous cooling in the eastern tropical Indian Ocean and warming in the west in a positive dipole event, and the reverse pattern for negative events. The amplitude of positive events is generally greater than that of negative events. Mean climate warming in austral spring is expected to lead to stronger easterly winds just south of the Equator, faster warming of sea surface temperatures in the western Indian Ocean compared with the eastern basin, and a shoaling equatorial thermocline. The mean climate conditions that result from these changes more closely resemble a positive dipole state. However, defined relative to the mean state at any given time, the overall frequency of events is not projected to change-but we expect a reduction in the difference in amplitude between positive and negative dipole events. © 2013 Macmillan Publishers Limited.