This blog provides commentary on interesting geological events occurring around the world in the context of my own work. This work is, broadly, geological fluid dynamics. The events that I highlight here are those that resonate with my professional life and ideas, and my goal is to interpret them in the context of ideas I've developed in my research. The blog does not represent any particular research agenda. It is written on a personal basis and does not seek to represent the University of Illinois, where I am a professor of geology and physics. Enjoy Geology in Motion! I would be glad to be alerted to geologic events of interest to post here! I hope that this blog can provide current event materials that will make geology come alive.

Banner image is by Ludie Cochrane..

Susan Kieffer can be contacted at s1kieffer at gmail.com

Friday, June 20, 2014

Is an El Nino in the offing?

The record of La Nina's and weak El Ninos that
have occurred since the
last powerful El Nino in 1997-1998. From the
Nikkei Asian Review cited in the text.
The Nikkei Asian Review had an interesting article on June 12 saying that, although it is too early for certainty, there are hints of an El Nino this winter, and perhaps an El Nino that will be as strong as the one of 1997-1998. Since an El Nino means a cooler summer in Japan, it could portend a problem for rice growers in Japan.
     What has caused this speculation? Normally the trade winds blow from east to west, but in January and February there were two strong westerly bursts, followed by two "slightly less powerful" ones in March and April. If such bursts continue and develop into a reversal of the trade winds, an El Nino will occur. Warm surface waters of the Pacific will be pushed easterly toward the west coast of South America.
     Although highly speculative at present, a switch back to El Nino conditions may have significance in the bigger picture. La Nina conditions have permitted storage of heat in the deep waters of the Pacific. Storage of heat in the ocean takes it away from the atmosphere, keeping global warming in check. The haitus in global warming in recent years may be due to this string of La Nina events. A switch back to El Nino conditions, particularly if they last a decade or more as is common, could result in a resumption of global warming conditions. Here's a link to a Slate article on the possibility, and here's Cliff Mass's comments about it, as well as the quality of forecasts made in April, the time of these two articles.
Typical El Nino weather conditions. From here.
     The June 5 ENSO Diagnostic Discussion issued by the Climate Prediction Center says that the chance of El Nino is 70% during the Northern Hemisphere summer and 80% during the fall and winter.
     The Asian Review article also notes that because of budget cutbacks, 24 of NOAA's 55 ocean buoys in the tropical Pacific are unable to operate and send data needed for monitoring the situation.

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