El Niño Events Are Not Getting Stronger

I knew the moment I pressed the publish button yesterday, that Bob Tisdale would have something useful to add to this discussion on El Niño and influenza. He didn’t disappoint us. – Anthony

clickable global map of SST anomalies

Current SST image showing a weak El Nino event - click fo larger image

Guest post by Bob Tisdale

The Texas A&M press release in the WattsUpWithThat post “Possible Linkage between the 1918 El Niño and the 1918 flu pandemic ?” stated that “some researchers” continued to believe that global warming was causing stronger El Niño events. Link to press release:

http://dmc-news.tamu.edu/templates/?a=8028&z=15

Quote from it: “Giese adds, ‘The most commonly used indicator of El Niño is the ocean temperature anomaly in the central Pacific Ocean. By that standard, the 1918-19 El Niño is as strong as the events in 1982-83 and 1997-98, considered to be two of the strongest events on record, causing some researchers to conclude that El Niño has been getting stronger because of global warming. Since the 1918-19 El Niño occurred before significant warming from greenhouse gasses, it makes it difficult to argue that El Niños have been getting stronger.”

HOWEVER

Not to discount the work by Giese et al: a quick look at a graph of NINO3.4 SST anomalies that includes the 30 years before 1900, Figure 1, reveals that there were two comparably sized “Super” El Nino events in 1877/78 and 1888/89.

http://i25.tinypic.com/259v9si.png

Figure 1

Link to the preprint version of Giese et al (2009) “The 1918/1919 El Niño”:

http://www.cdc.noaa.gov/people/gilbert.p.compo/Gieseetal2009.pdf

SOURCE

HADISST Anomaly data is available through the KNMI Climate Explorer:

http://climexp.knmi.nl/selectfield_obs.cgi?someone@somewhere

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69 thoughts on “El Niño Events Are Not Getting Stronger

  1. The attempt to link flu with El Nino seems rather silly.
    The explanations that have been used so far- high mobility, poor nutrition, virulent flu, seem very adequate.

  2. Another question: Where is the 3.4 region? I mean, what coordinates did you use? I want to check a few things.

  3. How do we know sea surface anomalies from the 1800’s? Buckets over a ship’s side?
    If so, are those considered accurate?

  4. Naper Boy- someone can correct me, but the Royal Navy has been doing
    SST’s-accurately from ships since the 1700’s…
    even if the thermometer in the bucket..

  5. Looking at the graph of ocean temperature, I can’t find any trend up in temperature. It looks mostly like noise.

  6. Bob T.,
    I interpret Giese’s comment as meaning the data show that El Niños have not gotten stronger. Your graph seems to disagree with the size of the event he references (1918/1919) while still strengthening his comment. I’m somewhat confused by your use of “however” and “Not to discount.”

  7. Do I need to state the obvious?
    “Nino = Christ Child,” because these sea temperature events occure around Chistmass time each year.
    Until December 25th, there is no such thing as a El Ninos event!

  8. Steve Huntwork (21:30:32) :
    Recognizing the historical relationship of these events to the people of coastal Peru is good and folks should read about this if they have not done so. Now that we know more about such events should we change the name or be inclusive of the scale and timeline?
    Further, if you make a big deal of this the PC police will insist that the term El Niño be banned. You have already said too much. Chill.
    And don’t mention December 25th and J.C. ever again in the same paragraph. “They” may be monitoring you now.

  9. Giggle, and my point was well noted.
    I was starting to get rather unconfortable when people were talking about an El Nino event in August and September.
    Come December, I will start to pay attention to the sea surface temparatures off the coast of Peru.

  10. For interested parties, the daily SOI just racked up its highest value in nearly 2 months: 17.29
    Both 30-day and 90-day avg. SOI values are now above zero as well.
    TAO also shows a rather expansive cold pool developing just below the thermocline and heading east.
    Looks like this El Nino will end before it ever begins.

  11. hunter (18:24:45) : The attempt to link flu with El Nino seems rather silly.
    The explanations that have been used so far- high mobility, poor nutrition, virulent flu, seem very adequate.

    Not silly at all. Most flu variations get “brewed up” in Asia where pigs are raised over water that birds (i.e. farmed ducks) live in; all in close proximity to humans. The multiple strains of flu get to swap bits around with each other until something virulent gets put together. Then it hops onto visiting wild birds and migrates with them to the rest of the world.
    It is an easy “surmise” that the migration patterns and timing of birds might be modified by El Nino and that might change their tendency to either pick up the new strains nor deliver it to vulnerable populations in sync with the environmental factors that would make them susceptible.
    It is also worth noting that malnutrition (ie your stated “nutritional status”) would tend to depend on weather cycles (crop yields) in pre-modern times that also depend on ocean current cycles. It would not take much to have a synchrony between poor crop yields, migration bringing a lot of sick birds to the local pond, and flu outbreaks.
    I don’t know if those things do have synergy, but that they might and it ought to be determined; is not at all far fetched.

  12. I mentioned that most seem to forget the second crucial factor in “evolution” besides mutation and that is selection. ‘flus can mutate all they like, it is when a deadly variant is selected by peculiar circumstances, like the Western Front in WW1. No-one seems to have noticed :-). As there are no cirumstances like that presently there is very little chance of a deadly influenza outbreak.

  13. John F. Hultquist: You asked, “I’m somewhat confused by your use of ‘however’ and ‘Not to discount.'”
    You’re right. Trying to keep the post a short as possible, I failed to include the paragraph in the press release that referenced that they studied the first half of the 20th century.

  14. Thanks Bob – another theory bites the dust. Correlation, cause & effect can soon lead people up the garden path.

  15. @Nogw:
    “And much bigger ninos in the past (around 600 AD), which caused the destruction of the Mochica culture.”
    It is a common prejudice in archaeological, sociological and environmental circles that the downfall of the Maya civilization was due to humans changing the central american environment. This example is used as a warning fable by warmists to ‘prove’ that man is capable of causing climate change.
    Can we assign any natural events, like extended super El Ninos, supervulcanism (like Iceland), or Solar minima to explain the ecological collapse of the Yucutan in that period? Doing so would debunk one of the accepted ‘plagues’ of the warmist cult mythology.

  16. If we are talking about ‘warming’ and ‘medicine’, then today’s Independent has sent in the sluggers to hit the home runs to Copenhagen:
    ‘Warning: climate change will damage your health’
    The authors? Doctors.
    Whilst I can understand this in the UK, doctors being funded by the taxpayer and the next tax regimen is ‘green taxes’, I wonder why US and Australian ones say so too.
    The six deadly sins? Malaria (well that was solved before green purists banned the chemicals); Starvation (nothing new there, nothing to do with ‘global warming’); Cholera (that’s to do with not making water clean, nothing to do with ‘global warming’); Overcrowding (that’s to do with breeding, nothing to do with ‘global warming’); Dengue Fever (we can argue that one); and Filthy Water (well let’s see now: communities on the Ganges revered the annual flood of ‘filthy water’ because it produced the most fertile land on earth with soil depths currently of up to 3 MILES), so the definition of ‘filthy water’ probably has little to do with climate and more to do with human activity.
    The seventh deadly sin in my view? SCAREMONGERING.
    Where did that come? In the letters section: a Dr Phil Nicholson, quoting an ‘alarming report on global warming AND ITS EFFECT ON THE FAST-SHRINKING ACTICE ICECAP…’ – Dr Nicholson, where is this FAST-SHRINKING icecap please? It’s recovering. Where is this proof that it will disappear and where is the evidence that mankind will die because of it??
    The letter was of course a dig for funding for geoengineering. Specifically ‘cloud albedo enhancement’.
    Why not just say: ‘we’d like to do some research into this as it should be part of the human’s toolkit over the next 50 years?’ If our scientific administrators have any nous whatsoever, they’ll be more moved by that than scaremongering nonsense……
    Do they have??

  17. OT, but the Christian aid ad – Get Brown to Copenhagen – caught my eye so I followed the link.
    It is getting people to send emails to Brown and Obama to sell our futures down the river at Copenhagen. The emails are pre-written, so you can’t compose your own, however, you can send your own free format message which will be displayed on the Copenhagen building. I wrote “Plants love CO2”.
    If anyone else has an opinion on this, I suggest going to the site and making your own views count.

  18. Mark: You wrote, “Looking at the graph of ocean temperature, I can’t find any trend up in temperature. It looks mostly like noise.”
    There is little to no trend:
    http://i28.tinypic.com/whk4g3.png
    Noise? That’s how most climatologists treat it.
    For a discussion on why that assumption is incorrect, here’s a link to my post “The Relationship Between ENSO And Global Surface Temperature Is Not Linear”. It’s a comment on Lean and Rind (2009):
    http://bobtisdale.blogspot.com/2009/09/relationship-between-enso-and-global.html
    Significant traditional El Nino events cause upward step changes in the SST anomalies of the East Indian and West Pacific Oceans. The East Indian and West Pacific data in the following post represent about 25% of the global ocean surface are from 60S to 65N.
    http://bobtisdale.blogspot.com/2009/01/can-el-nino-events-explain-all-of.html
    http://bobtisdale.blogspot.com/2009/01/can-el-nino-events-explain-all-of_11.html
    Significant El Nino events also cause upward step changes in the TLT anomalies of the mid-to-high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere:
    http://bobtisdale.blogspot.com/2009/06/rss-msu-tlt-time-latitude-plots.html
    And significant El Nino events cause upward step changes in Ocean Heat Content. You just have to divide the data into smaller datasets for the step changes to make their presence known. And of course, the AMO is a major contributor to the OHC of the North Atlantic:
    http://bobtisdale.blogspot.com/2009/09/enso-dominates-nodc-ocean-heat-content.html
    So, while ENSO may look like noise, and while climatologists treat it only as noise, ENSO is a significant component of multiyear and decadal global TLT, SST, and OHC trends.

  19. timetochooseagain (18:53:41) :
    From the link you gave:
    1918 14.6 16.6 -2.0 16.8 10.0 -4.7 -14.1 -4.4 -8.2 -5.0 1.3 -8.0
    Negative SOI indicates NINO.

  20. Karl (21:34:17) :
    The super El Nino of 1877-78 resulted in the warmest winter on record in the north-central United States:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=1vioLQGvvz8C&pg=PA130&lpg=PA130&dq=1877-78+The+Warmest+Winter&source=bl&ots=UlGSAn3Xx9&sig=eYbrCxjDdKWxnLxOZGOv_tYYSrE&hl=en&ei=cGmwSoPRIOC3tweS_umeCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9#v=onepage&q=1877-78%20The%20Warmest%20Winter&f=false
    “Those were the days, my friend….of really HOT summers” but in those days there was neither a Prophet like “Gordo Al” to say the world was ending nor a prophet´s acolyte as JH and his hockey stick and his toy “trains”

  21. Henry Galt (01:54:50) :
    “The Christ Child”
    There is a nine month gestation period

    And the only belly seen up to now is el Gordo´s belly. Too cold down here for an el Nino.

  22. Nogw (06:04:40) : SOI varies from -35 to +35. Those values make for a tiny El NIno, if one at all, because: “Negative SOI indicates NINO.” Is not strictly true. If the temperature anomalies in the 3.4 region are within .4 of normal, we are strictly speaking in a “La Nada”.
    Trenberth, K. E. (1997) The Definition of El Niño. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 78, 2771-2777.
    Bob Tisdale (02:34:45) : That’s still way weaker than suggested by Giese et al. How can you have an El Nino as strong as the 1997-98 El Nino with such weakly negative SOI?

  23. Timetochooseagain: You asked, “That’s still way weaker than suggested by Giese et al. How can you have an El Nino as strong as the 1997-98 El Nino with such weakly negative SOI.”
    Compare them side by side.
    http://i27.tinypic.com/105utds.png
    They’re based on two totally different variables and have different multiyear and multidecadal variations. While most of the ENSO events correlate, a strong NINO3.4 SST anomaly in either direction does not necessarily mean a similar response in the SOI, and vice versa.

  24. Gentry (22:51:17) :
    For interested parties, the daily SOI just racked up its highest value in nearly 2 months: 17.29

    Where is the source/link of that information?

  25. Didn’t Hansen’s precious models indicate a “super el nino?” if he turns out to be wrong, I wonder if/what he will say about it.

  26. Can someone please explain this?
    The NOAA anomolies plot above is red around the arctic, that from the scale indicates a 4 to 5 degree (C?) temeprature difference from the “average”. The JAXA SST Temperature plot shows those same regions with a 0 to 1 degree C temperature. How can it be 4 degrees different than average when it would be frozen if if were 2-3 degree less than the current temperature?
    Please explain how I have this confused.

  27. Bob Tisdale (08:11:49) : Thanks, I’ve been curious about the possibility of differences between the two. Which index do you think is best for characterizing ENSO? There seem to be lots of different measures.

  28. Oceans are cooling, as inicated in the following paper:
    ABSTRACT
    Ocean heat content data from 2003 to 2008 (4.5 years) were evaluated for trend.
    A trend plus periodic (annual cycle) model fit with R2 = 0.85. The linear
    component of the model showed a trend of -0.35 (±0.2) x 1022 Joules per year. The
    result is consistent with other data showing a lack of warming over the past few
    years.

    http://www.ncasi.org/publications/Detail.aspx?id=3152

  29. I thought a quotation from the late Theodor Landscheidt on el Nino predictions might go down well here…..’
    ‘my El Niño forecast proved correct, this would be the third successful El Niño forecast in a row. The second one had a lead time of 2 years. There are other successful long-range climate forecasts exclusively based on solar activity: End of the Sahelian drought 3 years before the event; the last three extrema in global temperature anomalies; maximum in the Palmer Drought Index around 1999; extreme River Po discharges around 2001.1 etc. (Landscheidt 1983-2001). This is irreconcilable with IPCC’s allegation that it is unlikely that natural forcing can explain the warming in the latter half of the 20th century. In declarations for the public, IPCC representatives stress that taxpayer’s money will be used to develop better forecasts of climate change. What about making use of those that already exist, even if this means to acknowledge that anthropogenic climate forcing is not as potent as alleged.’
    The last two sentences are worthy of deep thought and discussion, I would suggest…….

  30. Crashex: You asked, “The NOAA anomolies plot above is red around the arctic, that from the scale indicates a 4 to 5 degree (C?) temeprature difference from the “average”. The JAXA SST Temperature plot shows those same regions with a 0 to 1 degree C temperature. How can it be 4 degrees different than average when it would be frozen if if were 2-3 degree less than the current temperature?”
    I wrote a post that explains why the Arctic SST anomalies in the NOAA/NESDIS graph read high:
    http://bobtisdale.blogspot.com/2009/09/note-about-sst-anomaly-maps.html
    Also, do you have a link for the JAXA SST anomaly map you’re referring to?

  31. Andrew: You asked, “Which index do you think is best for characterizing ENSO?”
    NINO3.4 SST Anomalies have the better correlation with changes in global temperature. It’s also not as noisy as the SOI data.

  32. DanD: You asked, “Didn’t Hansen’s precious models indicate a “super el nino?” if he turns out to be wrong, I wonder if/what he will say about it.”
    I don’t believe the Model E models ENSO.

  33. Mike Lorrey (02:37:10) : “Can we assign any natural events, . . .”
    You might try the link below. There was something similar in a popular glossy magazine sometime in the recent past (? 2 years) but I cannot find it. A similar issue has been reported regarding the natives along the east coast of North America. Seems in both places a sufficient number of folks died to threaten the population before introduction of European diseases.
    Historical Review: Megadrought And Megadeath In 16th Century Mexico (Hemorrhagic Fever)
    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1556246/posts

  34. Bob Tisdale (12:04:47) : Thanks, I figured. 3.4 is generally presented as the “standard” index for ENSO. SOI seems to be the second most popular.

  35. ENSO is likely modulated on a longer period by PDO. The early 80s and late 90s El Ninos fit in with the positive PDO lobe. With the PDO likely having gone negative, I’d expect ENSO to be more like pre 1979. Also, it seems that since the late 90s event, El Nino events have been much weaker.

  36. Bob Tisdale (15:21:05) : In regard to those posts: Yes, the area of the specific part of the Pacific where the PDO “occurs” the temperature effect is out of phase with the PDO itself, however it seems quite clear to me that it or something related to it is teleconnected to temperature patterns world wide. For example:
    http://climate.gi.alaska.edu/ClimTrends/Change/graphics/temp_dep_49-08_F_sm.jpg
    There is more than just an ENSO signal there.

  37. Bob Tisdale: “I wrote a post that explains why the Arctic SST anomalies in the NOAA/NESDIS graph read high:
    http://bobtisdale.blogspot.com/2009/09/note-about-sst-anomaly-maps.html
    Also, do you have a link for the JAXA SST anomaly map you’re referring ?”
    I mis-spoke–its the DMI site surafce temp plots at
    http://ocean.dmi.dk/satellite/index.uk.php . I was comparing the temps v temp anomolies along the northern coast of Alaska and the northern protions of the Baffin/New Foundland Region.
    Thanks for your response. The DMI temp data has the same nightitme measurement bias that you referenced in your article. That’s likely the couple of degreees that accounts for the difference.

  38. timetochooseagain (15:55:02): Don’t mistake regional effects with global effects. Back on an earlier thread there was a similar comment by another blogger. I’m going to repeat my reply beacuse it addresses some of your concerns:
    The Eastern North Pacific SST anomalies of the area included in the PDO impact Western North America Land Surface Temperature anomalies. No doubt about it. In fact, here’s a graph to confirm that fact:
    http://i41.tinypic.com/2ee8uj7.jpg
    HOWEVER
    On the other side of the Pacific, the Western North Pacific SST anomalies have an impact on Eastern Asian Land Surface Temperatures, and here’s that graph.
    http://i42.tinypic.com/20ppslw.jpg
    Looks like a wash then for the direct impacts of the PDO on land surface temp anomalies. Why? During the extremes of the PDO, if the Eastern Pacific is warm or cool, the Western Pacific has changed in the opposite direction.
    Again, the effects on global temperatures of the Pacific are dictated by the entire Pacific basin, not only the area of the North Pacific included in the PDO.
    Also, here’s a map of the areas included in those graphs.
    http://i43.tinypic.com/2w3z0o4.jpg
    Regards

  39. Bob:
    Compare:
    http://i23.photobucket.com/albums/b370/gatemaster99/PDOCORRELATION.png
    http://i23.photobucket.com/albums/b370/gatemaster99/NINOCORRELATION.png
    Now, I do NOT mean to suggest that PDO is independent of ENSO. But it does represent something real which has more spread out effects than ENSO. My view is that PDO is a proxy for a sort of spatiotemporal “smearing” of ENSO. Note the positive correlations on either side of the equator in the Pacific. To me that looks almost like El Nino “moving out” toward the poles.
    It also appears to have surprisingly strong influence on conditions in the Indian Ocean.

  40. The absence of a negative SOI trend this summer is not surprising, or unusual, and it was to be expected. It’s indirectly related to the eastern qbo and the wintertime state of the southern hemisphere.

  41. Bob Tisdale:
    We are being told that this year’s El Nino is “very weak” – certainly, weak compared to 1998’s duration.
    But – look at the UAH (Huntsville) satellite air temperatures: The entire year of 2009 data is above the “20 year highest ever” temperatures that he plots for the satellite readings by 2/10 to 3/10 of a degree.
    So, if 1998’s temperatures were “abnormally high” due to that year’s “El Supremo El Nino” then why would 2009’s temperature be even higher – if this year’s El Nino is supposed so much weaker? (Overall, satellite temps have been declining since 2001, certainly have been said to be lower than 1998’s peak, and are about the same level as 1995 at +.2 degrees C over the 1973 baseline – so something doesn’t add up right.)

  42. RACookPE (11:53:44) : Don’t put much stock in the daily temps, they have to go through adjustment procedures for a lot of factors before they are meaningful.
    And of course another thing is that there has been an issue with the AMSU’s new annual cycles that throws off the anomalies somewhat (although not the trends).
    Moreoever, there are of course factors other than El Nino-although I know that Bob thinks they are THE most important factor, I’m a bit skeptical.

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