California Niño/Niña

Guest Post by Bob Tisdale

This is a quick post about a coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon that had previously not been described. The paper flew by under the radar back in April.

Initial Note: The “California Niño/Niña” is said to be independent of the El Niño and La Niña events taking place in the equatorial Pacific. Please do not confuse the two. Bottom line: this does not apply to the goings-on this year.

Back in April, 2014, a paper was published that described a sea surface temperature phenomenon in the East Pacific waters off the coasts of Baja Peninsula and California. (Thanks to Sig Silber for the heads-up.)

The JAMSTEC press release “California Niño/Niña” Phenomenon Discovered for the First Time includes:

The costal [sic] ocean off Baja California and California is located near the eastern edge of the subtropical high. The equatorward alongshore surface wind drives the surface water offshore under the influence of the earth’ rotation. To compensate this surface water, cold subsurface water upwells. Because of this, the sea surface temperature is kept low in this region.

In some years, however, the upwelling is reduced (enhanced) and thus the costal [sic] ocean becomes warmer (colder) than normal. Such interannual variability in sea surface temperatures along the coast has been considered to be related to El Niño/La Niña events in the tropical Pacific. However, the present study has demonstrated for the first time that an intrinsic coastal ocean-atmosphere coupled mode, which is independent of El Niño/Niña events, may contribute to the interannual variability in sea surface temperatures, particularly in summer.

The paper is Yuan and Yamagata (2014) California Niño/Niña [NOT paywalled.]

I haven’t studied the paper or attempted to confirm their findings, so I can’t comment on it either way.


38 thoughts on “California Niño/Niña

  1. If you you do not wish to confuse then perhaps you should not use inappropriate terminology.
    You might consider reserving the use of the terms El Nino and LA Nina to their proper sense. This should further clarity in this post and ensuing discussion.

    • My above above comment was poorly worded. I did not mean that Bob Tisdale was responsible for the misuse of the those terms.

    • They’re not Bob’s terms, though I agree the authors should have taken it into account. Maybe due to English not being their first language, not that El Niño is an English term.

      • To borrow from the Colorado bumper sticker of years agone
        Does this mean it has been “Californicated”?

    • Reply to mpainter ==> I think the authors have reached a compromise with the terminology, calling the phenomena the “California Nino/Nina” — alluding to the El Nino/La Nina but differentiating it with the adjectival “California”.
      I don’t think that people could be confused by hearing “the current California Nino….” in a news broadcast.

      • “Allude” to the real El Nino? Has such a connection been established that justifies an allusion? I think not.

      • If people can be confused into thinking global warming is real, they can probably be misled by CA Nino/Nina, too.

  2. Thanks Bob. I don’t see where mpainter;’s complaint is applicable, since the terminology isn’t yours, rather part of the JAMSTEC title. The site at the link to the paper doesn’t work, it looks like a site problem..

  3. In 2012 I wrote in a WUWT comment :
    If this (California) drought is ‘unusual’ it may be that the (Kuroshio-Oyashio and Alaskan) current systems have been temporarily disturbed by tectonic movements of Honshu in March of 2011.
    Month of March (spring equinox time) Japan’s major earthquake could have a high probability of causing major drought in the USA (3 out of 7 all in March, spring equinox). Two September quakes (autumn equinox) were followed by minor droughts, but minor droughts are regular occurrence, so no correlation is established.
    In the wikipedia’s list M8+ earthquakes are at
    01 September 1, 1923 M8.3
    March 2, 1933 M8.4 Major drought 1934
    December 20, 1946 M8.1
    March 4, 1952 M8.1 Major drought 1953-4
    May 16, 1968 M8.2
    September 25, 2003 M8.3
    And finally: March 11, 2011 MEGAquake M9.0 Major drought 2012-2014
    Speculative ?

    • That’s some fine speculating there!
      So, yes, still speculative… not that I don’t enjoy seeing it. Shouldn’t altered ocean currents show up in something that measures ocean currents… not drought records, which could be caused by any number of things?

      • Hi JDN
        Ocean currents did show up something up to 15 months after the quake (it took more than 12 months for the surface debris of the quake to reach NW Canadian coast, deeper current moves a bit slower). I didn’t follow much after, too many other things to keep an eye on. Mr. Tisdale might be able to say more about more recent state of the relevant currents.
        This was part of my original comment:
        “Whenever something is not ‘normal’ first thing I look at the ocean currents. According to (note this is current state)
        California current appears to be ‘cooler’ than normal (less evaporation), and by the current’s loop appearance that was the case for some time. Many reasons why that could happen”

      • JDN’
        “Drawing more long bows than at Agincourt”
        Seems to fit a lot of the recent climate speculation IMO

  4. Another piece of the giant jig-saw puzzle of climate. Each new piece found helps confound the Gore/Mann notion that it’s the preschool “barney” puzzle they already put together.

  5. Am I being too picky?
    Climatological surface winds blow southward all year round along the western coast of Baja California and California and drive the surface water offshore owing to the Ekman transport1 originated in the Coriolis force that deflects moving objects to the right of their paths in the Northern Hemisphere. To compensate for the surface water, cold and nutrient-rich subsurface water upwells and increases biological productivity in the coastal surface layer,

    “To compensate” implying intention, anthropomorphizing, the water current. WTF?

    • Steve,
      “to compensate” also has a non-emotive sense. In an inanimate system that is in balance, a change on one side can be automatically ‘compensated’ by a change in the other. No people need apply. For example, an overabundance of predators can lead to a collapse of the rabbit population that then leads to a reduction of the predator population ‘to compensate’ for the lower hunting success. Or think of the ‘compensator’ used on guns. It deflects some of the gasses rearward to ‘compensate’ for the kick of the firing. Again, no emotional loading involved. There’s a long list of such mechanical non-emotive uses.
      I’ve looked at the article. Looks decent to me. Could use a bit more awareness of lunar / tidal cycles; but it is accurate with respect to California coastal changes that I’ve experienced. The coastal currents can cycle stronger / weaker over a few years. Unclear why, though. Oh, and water off of California is typically VERY cold in all cases. About 45 F even in summer. Swum in it many a time… and come out on the edge of hypothermia a few times…

      • I guess there are two reasons for the cold sea water off California. The north Pacific gyre bringing water from the north, and this varying upwelling system.

    • Poor verbal skills and fuzzy language mean fuzzy minds. WTF are “climatological winds”?
      What we have is scatological terminology.

      • To continue, the upwelling is the Eckmann “Pump” effect and is coupled to the longshore (not “alongshore”) winds as one and the same phenomena. To invoke “compensation of surface waters” by colder, deeper water misses the mark. One should strive to give the most accurate rendering of natural processes that language allows. These guys could usesome help.

  6. Bob – I value your work, but .. do you really believe we understand El Nino / La Nina in a sufficient detail?

  7. Thanks, Bob.
    We were just wondering about the currents off California in another post. It is great to get more information.
    What I thirst for is the actual data. Not the modeled stuff, but what actually happens. Not that we can grasp the entirety of the big picture, but we can learn to recognize certain patterns, and then can expect A to usually follow B.
    What fellows like Joseph D’Aleo and Joe Bastardi have done is connect certain patterns in sea-surface-temperatures to certain atmospheric patterns. In such cases you can better guess (but never be absolutely certain) that a situation C will follow B.
    Then a butterfly flaps his wings somewhere, and utterly messes up the best forecasts.
    Oh well…”The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

  8. Thanks Bob – an interesting new system identified. A coupled system, flipping from one state to another? Somewhere in there is a positive feedback. Can anyone find it?

  9. This CA / Baja phenom was NOT un-noticed by several of the posters here – it was coupled with the posting that there were elevated monsoon activities in the Pacific, in this region. Further, there was a persistent pool of warm surface water, as the images in the article attest to. This region spawned or tried to spawn typhoons during the life span of the strongest anomaly. Deserves further study and attention in the future.

  10. California is getting some rain. Good on that.Now if practical people can out-vote the “kill 95% of the human population” extremists, maybe Cal can build more dams to keep the state watered during the drought years.

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