Tuesday, February 16, 2016

El Niño

El Niño /ɛl ˈnnj/ (Spanish pronunciation: [el ˈniɲo]) is the warm phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (commonly called ENSO) and is associated with a band of warm ocean water that Pacific International Date Line and 120°W), including off the Pacific coast of South America. El Niño Southern Oscillation refers to the cycle of warm and cold temperatures, as measured by sea surface temperature, SST, of the tropical central and eastern Pacific Ocean. El Niño is accompanied by high air pressure in the western Pacific and low air pressure in the eastern Pacific. The cool phase of ENSO is called "La Niña" with SST in the eastern Pacific below average and air pressures high in the eastern and low in western Pacific. The ENSO cycle, both El Niño and La Niña, causes global changes of both temperatures and rainfall. Mechanisms that cause the oscillation remain under study.
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develops in the central and east-central equatorial

El Niño is defined by prolonged warming in the Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures when compared with the average value.
The U.S NOAA definition is a 3-month average warming of at least 0.5 °C (0.9 °F) in a specific area of the east-central tropical Pacific Ocean; other organizations define the term slightly differently. Typically, this anomaly happens at irregular intervals of two to seven years, and lasts nine months to two years. The average period length is five years. When this warming occurs for seven to nine months, it is classified as El Niño "conditions"; when its duration is longer, it is classified as an El Niño "episode".
The first signs of an El Niño are a weakening of the Walker circulation or trade winds and strengthening of the Hadley circulation and may include:

  1. Rise in surface pressure over the Indian Ocean, Indonesia, and Australia
  2. Fall in air pressure over Tahiti and the rest of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean
  3. Trade winds in the south Pacific weaken or head east
  4. Warm air rises near Peru, causing rain in the northern Peruvian deserts
El Niño's warm rush of nutrient-poor water heated by its eastward passage in the Equatorial Current, replaces the cold, nutrient-rich surface water of the Humboldt Current.
A recent study has appeared applying network theory to the analysis of El Niño events; the study presented evidence that the dynamics of a described "climate network" were very sensitive to such events, with many links in the network failing during the events.

Effects of ENSO warm phase (El Niño)

Economic impact
When El Niño conditions last for many months, extensive ocean warming and the reduction in easterly trade winds limits upwelling of cold nutrient-rich deep water, and its economic impact to local fishing for an international market can be serious.

More generally, El Niño can affect commodity prices and the macroeconomy of different countries. It can constrain the supply of rain-driven agricultural commodities; reduce agricultural output, construction, and services activities; create food-price and generalised inflation; and may trigger social unrest in commodity-dependent poor countries that primarily rely on imported food. A University of Cambridge Working Paper shows that while Australia, Chile, Indonesia, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa face a short-lived fall in economic activity in response to an El Niño shock, other countries may actually benefit from an El Niño weather shock (either directly or indirectly through positive spillovers from major trading partners), for instance, Argentina, Canada, Mexico and the United States. Furthermore, most countries experience short-run inflationary pressures following an El Niño shock, while global energy and non-fuel commodity prices increase The IMF estimates a significant El Niño can boost the GDP of the United States by about about 0.5% (due largely to lower heating bills) and reduce the GDP of Indonesia by about 1.0%.

Health and social impacts
Extreme weather conditions related to the El Niño cycle correlate with changes in the incidence of epidemic diseases.
For example, the El Niño cycle is associated with increased risks of some of the diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, such as malaria, dengue, and Rift Valley fever. Cycles of malaria in India, Venezuela, Brazil, and Colombia have now been linked to El Niño. Outbreaks of another mosquito-transmitted disease, Australian encephalitis (Murray Valley encephalitis—MVE), occur in temperate south-east Australia after heavy rainfall and flooding, which are associated with La Niña events. A severe outbreak of Rift Valley fever occurred after extreme rainfall in north-eastern Kenya and southern Somalia during the 1997–98 El Niño.
ENSO conditions have also been related to Kawasaki disease incidence in Japan and the west coast of the United States, via the linkage to tropospheric winds across the north Pacific Ocean.
ENSO may be linked to civil conflicts. Scientists at The Earth Institute of Columbia University, having analyzed data from 1950 to 2004, suggest ENSO may have had a role in 21% of all civil conflicts since 1950, with the risk of annual civil conflict doubling from 3% to 6% in countries affected by ENSO during El Niño years relative to La Niña years.

Recent occurrences
Since 2000, El Niño events have been observed in 2002–03, 2004–05, 2006–07, 2009–10 and 2015–16.
In December 2014, the Japan Meteorological Agency declared the onset of El Niño conditions, as warmer than normal sea surface temperatures were measured over the Pacific, albeit citing the lack of atmospheric conditions related to the event. In March and May 2015 both NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology respectively confirmed the arrival of weak El Niño conditions. El Niño conditions were forecast in July to intensify into strong conditions by fall and winter of 2015. In July the NOAA CPC expected a greater than 90% chance that El Niño would continue through the 2015-2016 winter and more than 80% chance to last into the 2016 spring. In addition to the warmer than normal waters generated by the El Niño conditions, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation was also creating persistently higher than normal sea surface temperatures in the northeastern Pacific. In August, the NOAA CPC predicted that the 2015 El Niño "could be among the strongest in the historical record dating back to 1950.” In mid November, NOAA reported that the temperature anomaly in the Niño 3.4 region for the 3 month average from August to October 2015 was the 2nd warmest on record with only 1997 warmer.

Relation to climate change
During the last several decades the number of El Niño events increased, although a much longer period of observation is needed to detect robust changes.
The question is, or was, whether this is a random fluctuation or a normal instance of variation for that phenomenon or the result of global climate changes as a result of global warming. A 2014 study reported a robust tendency to more frequent extreme El Niños, occurring in agreement with a separate recent model prediction for the future.
Several studies of historical data suggest the recent El Niño variation is linked to anthropogenic climate change; in accordance with the larger consensus on climate change. For example, even after subtracting the positive influence of decade-to-decade variation (which is shown to be present in the ENSO trend), the amplitude of the ENSO variability in the observed data still increases, by as much as 60% in the last 50 years.
It may be that the observed phenomenon of more frequent and stronger El Niño events occurs only in the initial phase of the climate change, and then (e.g., after the lower layers of the ocean get warmer, as well), El Niño will become weaker than it was. It may also be that the stabilizing and destabilizing forces influencing the phenomenon will eventually compensate for each other. More research is needed to provide a better answer to that question. However, a new 2014 model appearing in a research report indicated unmitigated climate change would particularly affect the surface waters of the eastern equatorial Pacific and possibly double extreme El Niño occurrences.
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