El Niño – a global warming survivor

From the AGU Weekly highlights:

El Niño–Southern Oscillation variability persisted in warmer world

Changes in the distribution of sea surface temperature associated with the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cause significant changes in weather. In the past 40 years it has been observed that the frequency and intensity of El Niño events have been increasing. Scientists would like to know what will happen to ENSO variability as the world’s climate warms.

To find out, some have looked to the mid-Piacenzian Warm Period (mPWP), a period about 3.26 to 3.03 million years ago that was about 3° Celsius (5.4° Fahrenheit) warmer than present day and that may be analogous to what can be expected in the future if climate continues to warm. Some studies have suggested that during the mPWP, there was actually no ENSO variability but rather a permanent El Niño state.

To learn more about ENSO variability during the mPWP, Scroxton et al. analyze the isotopic composition of planktonic foraminifera from the eastern equatorial Pacific, as well as ENSO simulations conducted with a coupled ocean atmosphere climate model. Their proxy and model data suggest that interannual ENSO variability did persist during the mPWP, with a mean state similar to a modern El Niño event. Furthermore, they found that during the mPWP, ENSO events may have been more regular and more intense.

Source: Paleoceanography, doi:10.1029/2010PA002097, 2011
http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2010PA002097

Title: Persistent El Niño–Southern Oscillation variation during the Pliocene Epoch

Authors: N. Scroxton: Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK; Now at Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Acton, ACT, Australia;

S. G. Bonham: School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK;

R. E. M. Rickaby, S. H. F. Lawrence, and M. Hermoso: Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK;

A. M. Haywood: School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK.

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31 Responses to El Niño – a global warming survivor

  1. Jim says:

    That seems kind of backwards. Doesn’t the ocean heat drive the climate, not the other way round?

  2. Billy Liar says:

    There is an urgent requirement to understand how large fluctuations in tropical heat distribution associated with the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) will respond to anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.

    I’m going to re-write the first line of their abstract:

    There is an urgent requirement to understand ENSO.

    Walk before run.

  3. Joe Lalonde says:

    Anthony,

    Would it not make sense that a colder planet would first show in the southern hemisphere?
    The diameter of the equator really has effects of northern and southern hemisphere differences.
    Distance from the sun differences as well.

  4. Richard G Mustain says:

    Appears to another version of the tail wagging the dog.

  5. John Marshall says:

    But since temperatures have ptateaued to trending down perhaps El Nino will continue to weaken. But this is not cause and effect rather it is the El Nino that causes temperatures to rise. El Nino will be getting the energy from the sun. What we need to research is the true cause of the ENSO if only to widen the understanding of global energy transfers. (Not that we will be able to do anything to change or stop any of them)

  6. CoRev says:

    Studies like this show, even again, that warming can create a more equable environment. How can we ignore differences in temperature causes weather. Fewer/shallower differences in temperature…. Well, Y’all know!

  7. stephen richards says:

    There are those b%§dy models again. Tail wagging dog? Where do they think(know) the extra energy is coming from to raise the climate temp to increase the ENSO effect(s)?
    This is another plea for extra funding and that’s it.

  8. Zack G says:

    It would be worth spending the money on IF El Nino’s were increasing. They aren’t, as these scientists continue to show a complete disregard for the past and the PDO. Courtesy of Joe D’Aleo…

    1947-1977 La Nina 14, El Nino 7 PDO cold
    1978-1998 El Nino 10, La Nina 3 PDO warm (some say PDO stayed warm until 2007, that would add two La Nina’s and an El Nino)
    1999-pres 6 La Nina, 3 El Nino PDO cold

    Average Duration of ENSO
    Cold PDO La Nina 20, El Nino 13
    Warm PDO El Nino 21, La Nina 12

    I don’t know about you guys but the evidence shows me that El Nino’s are more frequent and stronger in a Warm PDO (which was the majority of the last 40 years) and La Nina’s are more frequent and longer in a Cold PDO (which we are entering now).

  9. polistra says:

    40 years? Nope, judging by the 5th graph on the WUWT ref page, EN increased from 1980 to 2000 then returned to previous situation.

    The null hypothesis of this study seems weird. Why would you assume that the ENSO would go away when the average temp is higher? A wave doesn’t disappear when you add a constant offset, it just rides higher overall.

  10. Bob Tisdale says:

    The Isthmus of Panama formed sometime during the Pliocene. Is this paper examining ENSO events before or after the Atlantic and Pacific were separated from one another?

  11. Joe Banks says:

    Funny it was warmer 3 million years ago. Who was emitting all the CO2?

  12. Bill Illis says:

    Temperatures were higher 3 Mya but it was not 3.0C warmer. It was probably only 1.0C warmer. Pro-AGW papers consistently exaggerate the proxy records to show what they want.

    I imagine the ENSO has always been an oscillation of slightly warmer and slightly colder water on a yearly to 18 month timeframe regardless if it was 1.0C or 9.0C warmer (and that would go back several hundred million years since the Pacific became a large ocean basin). To propose an El Nino was permanent, you would have to show that the Trade Winds also stopped at that time.

    In regards to this paper, they have nowhere near high enough resolution in their data to determine if there was a permanent El Nino. I’ve downloaded their new original data and the datapoints are several hundred thousand years apart. You cannot determine anything about the ENSO from those timelines.

  13. Gary Pearse says:

    Models have proven unreliable with measured, observed data. How are they going to fare when you are plugging in 3 million year old paleo-oceanic sea mud proxies?

  14. ray toster says:

    Having watched and thought about El Ninos and La Ninas for a few years now, you must remember that they are a description of a weather event. A bit like a cyclone or a cold front. They are not actors on the weather system but rather a description of where the system is at when they are in existence.

    Ray Toster

  15. Jeremy says:

    Wow am I tired of seeing people use fossilized microorganisms to prove things about the ancient world.

    That said, why wouldn’t the ENSO situation persist if you shift the bar of variability up or down? As long as you’re not approaching a state-change for water, the energy gradients should behave the same way. This seems like a very obvious conclusion.

  16. Theo Goodwin says:

    ray toster says:
    June 24, 2011 at 7:23 am
    “Having watched and thought about El Ninos and La Ninas for a few years now, you must remember that they are a description of a weather event. A bit like a cyclone or a cold front. They are not actors on the weather system but rather a description of where the system is at when they are in existence.”

    Are they natural processes – or are they not? If they are natural processes then they consist of natural regularities that should be described in physical hypotheses. Given the magnitude of their effects, which is huge, and the fact that they are rather cyclical, I am inclined to believe that they are natural processes. To simply declare that they resemble a cold front seems unreasonable. Of course, we will not know until our climate scientists, so-called, decide to get up from their computers and devise some methods for detecting and measuring the natural processes that make up El Nino and La Nina. The Gaia modelers treat them as statistical noise. Of course, the Gaia modelers treat everything as statistical noise except radiation from the sun and their sky god CO2.

  17. RAVEENDRAN. NARAYANAN says:

    EL NINO & LA NINA ARE due to dumping of Concentrates to Oceans & Seas by M.E.DESALTERS. By erecting Zero Discharge Systems in heavy duty Desalters Southern Ocilations can be resolve & GLOBAL WARMING ARRESTED. Welcome to visit Sarva Kala Vallabhan Group in facebook & comment

  18. coturnix19 says:

    That seems kind of backwards. Doesn’t the ocean heat drive the climate, not the other way round?
    ——————–

    If you drive a car, who controls the situation? You, even though it is the car who does most of the work.

  19. Bob Tisdale says:

    ray toster says: “Having watched and thought about El Ninos and La Ninas for a few years now, you must remember that they are a description of a weather event. A bit like a cyclone or a cold front. They are not actors on the weather system but rather a description of where the system is at when they are in existence.”

    El Nino and La Nina events are interrelated phases of a coupled ocean-atmosphere process that releases heat from the tropical Pacific Ocean, which helps to reduce the temperature difference between the tropics and the poles. (The heat had been stored in the form of warm water to depths of 300meters in the Pacific Warm Pool.) The periodic release of heat, primarily through evaporation, is called El Nino and it impacts weather patterns and temperatures globally. The recharge phase, called La Nina, replaces part of and sometimes all of the heat released from the Pacific Warm Pool during the El Nino. Also, during La Nina events, warm water that is leftover from the El NIno is redistributed within the North and South Pacific and Indian Oceans, providing secondary releases of heat from the ocean to the atmopshere outside of the tropical Pacific. This secondary release of heat during the La NIna is countered by the lower than normal release of heat from the eastern and central tropical Pacific.

  20. John F. Hultquist says:

    Bob Tisdale says:
    June 24, 2011 at 5:55 am
    The Isthmus of Panama formed sometime during the Pliocene. Is this paper examining ENSO events before or after the Atlantic and Pacific were separated from one another?

    For background information regarding Bob T’s comment see my comment on the following Dec. post and follow the links:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/12/30/the-antithesis/#comment-562617

  21. Jim says:

    coturnix19 says:
    June 24, 2011 at 8:45 am
    If you drive a car, who controls the situation? You, even though it is the car who does most of the work.

    That is such a sad example of an analogy! If you put the Sun near an ice berg, which shrinks the most?

  22. pat says:

    El Nino was only identified as an observable, sited, phenomenon since 1956. Satellite observations commenced sparingly in the 1980s. This is an extraordinarily short time to draw any long term conclusions.

  23. Stephen Wilde says:

    I would have thought that ENSO would be present as an internal oceanic phenomenon whatever the global equilibrium temperature given the current landmass distribution. Even with a different landmass distribution there would have been similar oceanic oscillations.

    The suggestion that there have been changes in overall intensity over the period (despite the average mean state being the same) in turn suggests a separate mechanism linking the intensity and regularity to whatever the global equilibrium temperature is at any given time. A high global temperature producing more inensity and regularity and a low temperature the opposite.

    So if changing levels of solar activity do change the surface air pressure distribution from above leading to changes in global cloudiness and albedo thus affecting energy input to the oceans then over longer periods than the basic ENSO/PDO cycles the global equilibrium temperature will change and the altered ENSO/PDO intensity will then shift the climate zones too by in turn altering the surface air pressure distribution from below.

    The top down solar and bottom up oceanic effects then vie for dominance producing climate changes around the planet in the process.

    That scenario is entirely consistent with the above findings and all current observations.

    Note too that the ENSO response is always negative. If something tries to warm up the planet then the higher intensity and regularity will release energy to the air and space faster. If something tries to cool down the planet then the opposite occurs.

    So GHGs have their effect but it seems likely that it would be unmeasurable as compared to the scale of solar top down effects and oceanic bottom up effects in terms of shifting the climate zones.

  24. Ross says:

    All I can tell you is that here in South East Queensland Australia we’ve had two wet seasons in a row – OK 2011 was a bit extreme but I’m old enough to remember the 1974 floods as well – and our water storages – which the alarmists told us we may as well abandon them as they will never fill again – are full to overflowing – the land is green and pleasant again after 10 years of drought.

    We’ve had a few “cold” winters now rather than the cool ones we had become used to – it isn’t ever really cold here – no snow or the like.

    It is beginning to remind me of my childhood again – predictable seasons – wet summers, cool dry winter and early spring.

    It is amazing how the El Nino /La Nina cycles fit the observed weather patterns of the seasons – El Nino’s bring us dry warm weather – La Nina’s wetter cooler.

    I don’t even care if I’m wrong – life looks pretty good to me.

  25. peter_ga says:

    If ENSO is a positive feedback phenomenon where winds blow warm currents to one end of a large ocean, which creates low-pressure, warmth, and convection further reinforcing the winds blowing the warm currents, and this feedback can reverse, then surely this type of oscillation is possible in any climate provided the ocean is big enough, and liquid, and the atmosphere convects.

    Why would it stop? Why would AGW cause a change in period or amplitude? Is forty years of observational evidence enough to establish a trend or correlation?

  26. Jack Simmons says:

    Cause of crazy weather?

    LaNada

    http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2011/24jun_wildweather/

    Surprised there were no references to climate change.

  27. Andrew30 says:

    Jim says: June 24, 2011 at 1:08 pm
    [That is such a sad example of an analogy! If you put the Sun near an ice berg, which shrinks the most?]

    The Sun:
    The Sun releases energy at the mass-energy conversion rate of 4.26 million metric tons per second.

  28. Brian H says:

    polistra says:
    June 24, 2011 at 5:16 am

    40 years? Nope, judging by the 5th graph on the WUWT ref page, EN increased from 1980 to 2000 then returned to previous situation.

    The null hypothesis of this study seems weird. Why would you assume that the ENSO would go away when the average temp is higher? A wave doesn’t disappear when you add a constant offset, it just rides higher overall.

    Flunk. Not a constant offset. The tropics barely twitch a degree or two annually or over geological ages. It’s the temperate and polar zones that do all the changing. And warmer temperate and polar zones reduce the discrepancy with the tropics, hence reduce the energy flows, and hence lower the climate and weather variability.

  29. sophocles says:

    Joe Banks says:
    “Funny it was warmer 3 million years ago. Who was emitting all the CO2?”

    … and then about 2.8MYA a nearby star went supernova and by 2.5MYA the planet was deep in an ice age …

    You could say a warm period is the absence of cold.

  30. cna nursing assistant says:

    El-Niño Phenomenon has become a major problem for tropical countries around the world particularly in the Southeast Asia and the desert parts of Africa. ENSO results into extreme drought that leads to damage to farms and crops. This phenomenon lasts for a couple of months.

  31. phlogiston says:

    peter_ga says:
    June 24, 2011 at 5:50 pm
    If ENSO is a positive feedback phenomenon where winds blow warm currents to one end of a large ocean, which creates low-pressure, warmth, and convection further reinforcing the winds blowing the warm currents, and this feedback can reverse, then surely this type of oscillation is possible in any climate provided the ocean is big enough, and liquid, and the atmosphere convects.

    The positive feedback you describe is sometimes called the Bjerknes feedback:

    http://stratus.astr.ucl.ac.be/textbook/chapter5_node4.xml (figure 5.3)

    This positive feedback makes the Pacific a “reactive” or “excitable” medium, and thus likely to be subject to nonlinear oscillation, of the Belousov-Zhabotinsky type, as discussed in an earlier post:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/01/25/is-the-enso-a-nonlinear-oscillator-of-the-belousov-zhabotinsky-reaction-type/

    If the ENSO is a nonlinear oscillator, it is not surprising to find palaeo evidence that it is persistent, robust and Lyapunov-stable. There is indeed no reason why it should stop.

    A more interesting question is when and how did it start. It would be more interesting to go further back in time – 10s or 100s of millions of years when the world map was very different, and look for ENSO type oscillation there – if this is technically possible.

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