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AGU journal highlights -- June 15, 2011
Date:6/15/2011

>7. Different patterns but same El Nio, study suggests

The traditional view of El Nio is that it starts with a warm sea surface anomaly off the west coast of South America. This aberrant warming drifts west from the coast, triggering peak sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific during the southern summer. However, as the observational record grows and the full range of variability comes into view, some researchers have suggested that a recent slate of El Nio events that focus on the central Pacific, skipping the eastern warming, is indicative of the system being composed of at least two unique climate dynamics. The central Pacific-focused El Nio Modoki has been increasing in prevalence over recent decades, and researchers expect this trend to continue with global warming.

New research by Takahashi et al., however, indicates that El Nio Modoki and the classical type are, in fact, one but that the perceived divergent behavior highlights the dynamic range of the system. Using El Nio observations stretching back to 1870, the authors perform a statistical analysis, breaking down the data set to isolate hidden spatial and temporal patterns. The Modoki and traditional El Nio records do not show the clustering that would be expected for separate climate phenomena. What do stand out, however, are the extreme warm events that occurred in the eastern Pacific in 1982-1983 and 1997-1998. On the basis of their findings, the authors propose two indices to describe the development of El Nio events: one for the moderate warming of the central Pacific and another for the extreme heat sometimes seen in the east. Therefore, the propagation of a given El Nio would be a combination of these two variables.

Source: Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1029/2011GL047364, 2011
http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2011GL047364

Title: ENSO regimes: Reinterpreting the canonical and Modoki
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Contact: Maria-Jos Vias
mjvinas@agu.org
202-777-7530
American Geophysical Union
Source:Eurekalert

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