Main Hall Item 7

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Dr. Mark Eakin

Item 7  30-MAR-1998 08:42 Peter Tuddenham (peter)

Last month I went to the Global Programs Office of NOAA in Silver Spring Maryland to learn more about their work and to meet some of the NOAA personnel working on aspects of El Nino. We were fortunate to meet Mark. He agreed to spend some time here with us  this week talking about his work.  

Dr. Eakin has served as a program officer for the NOAA Office of Global Programs (OGP) since 1991.   His duties include two of the NOAA Climate and Global Change Program Elements: Paleoclimatology and Climate Dynamics and Experimental Prediction.  In the Paleoclimatology program, Dr. Eakin works with the scientific
community to organize and fund research to improve our understanding of climate variability over the past few thousand years by developing and using high resolution (annual or better) climate records. In the Climate Dynamics and Experimental
Prediction program, Dr. Eakin works with a group of applied research centers to improve our ability to understand and predict seasonal to decadal scale climate events such as El Niņo and develop applications for these forecasts.  Additionally,
Dr. Eakin is heavily involved in development of the U.S. Coral Reef Initiative and its international counter part (ICRI).  He serves on the Scientific Steering Committee for the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network.  

In his past life (before becoming a NOAA bureaucrat) Dr. Eakin worked as a coral reef ecologist.  While working on his Ph.D. from the University of Miami he taught at the college level and performed research on various topics including include the effects of disturbance such as climate change, El Niņo and oil spills on coral reefs, and the behavior of marine organisms.  He continues scientific collaboration with scientists at the University of Miami and the University of Maryland and teaches graduate courses at the University of Maryland whenever he can drag himself away from the office.  He is the author or co-author of several scientific publications and reports.  

Dr. Eakin lives in Germantown, MD with his wife June and 7 year old son Brian, and is active in his church and community.  

Please join me in welcoming Mark for this weeks keynote discussions.  

7:1) 30-MAR-1998 16:50 Phyllis Grifman (pgrifman)

Welcome Mark, and thank you so much for participating.  I look forward to seeing your presentation.  We're very glad to have NOAA OGP present in the workshop, and I think this will lend a valuable perspective to the proceedings.  

I would like to direct everyone's attention to the "Biology" breakout session.  Sue Yoder, Lynn Whitley and I attended a workshop on Saturday hosted by the Wrigley Institute and there are some interesting things that came out of it.

7:2) 31-MAR-1998 08:22 Kristina (Tina) Bishop (tina)

Dr. Eakin has suggested that as a starting point for this week's conversation we all take a look at the following web site  

This is a set of very rich resources covering a wide variety of topics about El Nino and the Southern Oscillation.
Regional and global impacts are reported from around the world. I found the section about what we are doing to learn more about ENSO very interesting.  


7:3) 31-MAR-1998 11:00 Dr. C. Mark Eakin (meakin)

Thanks for having me here.  I'm looking forward to the questions this week.  In addition to our web page, I put a small page together last night on the plane.  It should generate a few questions and point folks in the direction of some interesting part of the NOAA/OGP ENSO Page.  Please check out:

7:4) 31-MAR-1998 11:32 Peter Tuddenham (peter)

Thanks for putting htat special page together, it is so helpful to have a flow to follow so to speak.  

Are there other TAO like programs in other oceans or are thy just in the pacific?

7:5) 31-MAR-1998 20:30 Dr. C. Mark Eakin (meakin)

The TAO observing system is the first of its kind. There are plans underway for a moored buoy array as part of a tropical Atlantic observing system called PIRATA and ideas for an Indian Ocean system are being developed.  Some of the future research directions can be found at:  

While there are no here are networks of buoys in those oceans, volunteer observing ship (VOS) observations and a network of drifting buoys are already in place.  These, along with satellite observations provide what we know about the temperature structure of the other oceans.

7:6) 01-APR-1998 12:40 Dr. C. Mark Eakin (meakin)

An item that isn't mentioned on the other pages is some new information on the impacts of this El Niņo on coral reefs in the eastern Pacific Ocean.  I recently returned from Panama where we documented the impacts on reefs, another group recently performed similar observations in the Galapagos.  You can find brief reports on the bleaching observed in these corals, as well as the SST conditions that caused the bleaching at:

7:7) 01-APR-1998 19:31 Cathleen Cannon (ccannon)


   I really appreciate the way you have developed the various NOAA WEB Sites on ENSO.  They are so easy to use and so very informative.  As an informal educator I frequently get asked to present a short talk or "hands-on" and these sites are a terrific resource for me.  I find I get into the sites and lose all track of teen-aged sons have told me "Mom,...if you don't sleep you die!"   I have bookmarked them all and will be refering to them as long as they are UP.
   Thank-you for a wonderful resourse!!        Cathleen  

7:8) 01-APR-1998 20:36 Phyllis Grifman (pgrifman)


Here are some additional NOAA pages folks might find useful:  



        Fans of global weather facts now have a new resource on the World Wide
Web, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced today.  

        NOAA's new Web page answers questions such as:  What's the hottest
temperature recorded in North America?  What's the rainiest place in Asia?
What spot takes top honors for the coldest temperature?  

        Answers to these and other questions about extremes of temperature and
precipitation from around the world can be found at:      The new Global
Measured Extremes of Temperature and Precipitation page is also accessible

        The new page is courtesy of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in
Asheville, N.C.  The center, now headed by its former senior scientist,
Thomas Karl, is the world's largest data center for climate data and
information.  The center archives worldwide weather observations,
satellite, and radar information.  It also produces a suite of climate
products that are used by scientists and researchers around the world.  The
center also conducts research dealing with global climate change.  

7:9) 02-APR-1998 18:55 Lesley Ewing (lewing)

Dr. Eakins,
Thanks for all the web site references.  Do you, or does someone you know, have any information about the cost of the TAO system?  Last year there was talk about privitizing the weather service and I would imagine that much of the NOAA climate work might have been included in that idea.  If all weather service becomes private will systems like TAO be too costly to continue?

7:10) 02-APR-1998 18:59 Lesley Ewing (lewing)

Dr. Eakins,
California is often on the cutting edge of new topics.  I have recently heard people talking forebodingly about El Nino's big sister -- La Nina.  What are some of dangers, other than hurricanes, that we should look forward to as El Nino weakens?

7:11) 02-APR-1998 20:19 Dr. C. Mark Eakin (meakin)

When I'm back in the office tomorrow I will check on how much it cost to put in place initially.  However, the annual cost for maintaining the array and maintaining the data coming from the array is over $5M.  $4.9M of this annual cost was recently transferred from our office to another part of NOAA as part of the effort to make it quasi-operational.  The TAO array way initially designed and built as a research array to help us better understand El Niņo.  Now it is being maintained to help us in routine observation and prediction.  

Fortunately, the idea to privitize the weather service has been put to rest for a while.  It was not a very good idea and would certainly not have been applicable to climate systems such as the TAO array.  Even with the recent change in the funding structure for the TAO array, it is still funded from a part of NOAA that concentrates on research and development.  It is not a part of a truly operational part of NOAA such as much of the National Weather Service is.

7:12) 02-APR-1998 20:27 Dr. C. Mark Eakin (meakin)

It is a bit early to be worried about La Niņa.  While it is possible that we could shift into La Niņa conditions as early as this winter, it is more likely that it will take us a bit longer to move solidly into the cold phase of the ENSO system.  Just like the warm phase (El Niņo), the cold phase (La Niņa or El Viejo) is good news to some and bad news for others.  The end of the warm phase will probably mean that this year will have a relatively normal Atlantic Ocean hurricane season.  If we go into strong cold phase conditions, it can mean more tornados in the midwest next spring.  

You should check out some of the information in Dr. O'Brien's keynote discussions and web resources from last week for more on the El Niņo vs. La Niņa comparisons.  He had some good information there.  You can also check out the climate extremes page from NOAA/CDC that I mentioned in my "lecture".  It is at:

7:13) 03-APR-1998 14:05 Dr. C. Mark Eakin (meakin)

To answer the question on the observing system cost, I have in front of me a table that was used in a 1996 report that calculated the cost-benefit analysis of the entire El Niņo observing system as it relates to the value to US agriculture.  Of course, there is value to other sectors and other countries as well.  All values are in 1995 US dollars.  

Total US  Government cost of observing system, through completion in 1995: $272,932,000
Annual post-1995 cost: $12,300,000
Annual value to agricuture (varies as a reflection of increasing use of ENSO forecast in decision making), example years:
1996: $120,000,000
1998: $156,000,000
2002 and beyond: $252,700,000  

This does not reflect the rapid increase in the use of ENSO forecasts that have occurred as a result of the 1997-98 event.  

Basically, the $272M price tag seems huge, but is estimated to be paid off through savings to agriculture alone by 1998.  

Like the observing systems for weather, it is unlikley that the cost could ever be recovered through a private operation.  These are the kinds of functions that require government support to operate.

7:14) 04-APR-1998 07:35 Dr. C. Mark Eakin (meakin)

I would like to add a slight correction to one of Dr. Vasquez's comments.  He was discussing the difference between satellite and in situ (buoy, ship, etc.) observations, and differences in available information between this event and the one in 1982-83.  While there were a few drifting buoys and some surface observting ships that provided information on the 82-83 event, there was no comprehensive ENSO observing system in place.  The TOGA research program had not yet begun and the TAO array was nothing more than a rough concept.  Researchers working in the TOGA program did not begin to build the TAO array until around 1985 and it was not complete until 1995.  Thus the full array of satellite, moored buoy, drifter and ship data that we have now greatly exceeds what we had in 1982-83.  

An important difference between the satellite and in situ components of the observing system is the depth of observations.   Satellites provide a global coverage that the in situ network cannot.  However, they only provide information on limited variables and only on those that can be measured from the surface.  The TAO array and XBTs (expendable bathy thermographs) provide information on the three dimensional structure of what is going on across the tropical Pacific.  Being able to see the development of warm anomalies in 1996, and now the cold anomaly that is groing, requires this three dimensional information that satellites cannot provide.  Even the altimeter aboard the TOPEX/POSEIDON is limited by measuring changes in the surface height as a reflection of what goes on in the entire water column.  

You should check out the TAO home page that I listed on my "lecture".  It has considerable information on the data that come from the array and how the array functions.

7:15) 04-APR-1998 12:16 Dr. C. Mark Eakin (meakin)

The TAO home page can be found at:  

An example of the value of the buoy data is the following plot of the subsurface temperature section:

7:16) 04-APR-1998 12:18 Dr. C. Mark Eakin (meakin)

7:17) 04-APR-1998 12:33 Dr. C. Mark Eakin (meakin)

The top image provides actual ocean temperatures, while the lower image shows the temperature anomalies.  The images summarize the temperature structure for the month of March, averaging the section from 8° South to 2° North.  

You can see that the surface waters were still quite warm through this period.  That is what a sea surface temperature image would provide.  By using the buoy data, you can see that the thermocline structure is returning to normal, with the warm water shallowest in the eastern Pacific and deepest in the west.  The anomaly structure is even more revealing, showing a strong cool water mass.  If you compare this to earlier images, you can see that this anomaly became apparent back in November of 1997.  

In fact, through assimilation of the thermal structure of the tropical Pacific, forecasters were able to predict the strength of the anomaly fairly well up to six months before the event first began to peak last fall.  New systems of ocean data assimilation are being developed that will do a better job of adjusting the model based on observations.  These experimental techniques reuire not only the surface temperatures, but also the subsurface structure of the temperatures.  

A great value of the satellite data in prediction has been the recent addition of the TOPEX/Poseidon altimetry data into the Pacific Ocean data assimilation system.  By combining the altimetry data with temperature data, the salinity structure of the surface waters can be estimated.  This technique was added to the NOAA/NCEP forecast system before this El Niņo event, substantially improving its accuracy.

7:18) 05-APR-1998 20:29 Kristina (Tina) Bishop (tina)

Dr. Eakin,
All of us on the El Nino team want to thank you for a very informative presentation. We appreciate the time you spent with us. It was good to learn more about what NOAA is doing and about your work in particular.

7:19) 05-APR-1998 23:40 Charlene I. Branch (cbranch)

It apprears that the NOAA is just beginning to unravel some of the weather mysteries that have stumped mankind for years.  It is good to hear the the programs will not become privite.  Do large corporations depend on your information?  Combination of the space and ocean research should continue to expand.

7:20) 06-APR-1998 09:57 Dr. C. Mark Eakin (meakin)

Large corporations, small companies, federal, state and local governments have all benefitted from the forecasts and data on this year's El Niņo.  The main reason that this event was not far more costly to the US was the advance planning that went on.  With even greater application of the seasonal to interannual forecasts, even more money can be saved.  Large agribusiness has paid close attention to this event and made some adjustments.  Unfortunately, the price support and crop insurance programs in the U.S. artifically protect many farmers from reduced crop yields in ways that actually discourage the use of the forecasts by many.  Other countries without such government supports use the El Niņo forecasts and observations to a greater degree.  For several years now, farmers in Brazil have relied on El Niņo information (see  

Just like weather forecasts, climate forecasts get better as one gets closer to the date of prediction.  Three month lead time seasonal forecasts are better than six, are better than nine, are better than twelve. As early as March of 1997, NCEP forecasts of the SSTs were quite good.  This was the result of improvements in numerical modeling and the availability of the TAO data.  If you notice the images from Dr. Vasquez's lecture, the AVHRR images of SST from the NOAA-GOES satellite did not really show the El Niņo strengthen until summer.  Signs of an impending event in the subsurface structure were present in early spring (see  

Despite all of this information, many parts of the energy industry did not respondas quickly as they might have liked.  The result was excess supplies of fuel oil and gas in areas that benefitted from milder than usual winters.  You and I won out on this one as it drove down energy prices, including low prices at the gas pumps.  If the corporations had used the forecasts and observations more wisely, they could have done a more effective job of redistributing their supplies.  

Just as a warm sunny day today does not tell you what the weather will be like tomorrow, the satellite and ocean observations do not tell the whole story.  However, the combination of observations with numerical prediction systems have been of great benefit to many companies that were prepared to use them.  Our office (NOAA Office of Global Programs) and groups from NOAA's National Weather Service have been working with FEMA, the State of California and businesses in California for several months to help understand what the user communities need to deal with sesonal to interannual climate information during a raging El Niņo event.  Simlarly, we have been supporting a research program in the Pacific Northwest to work on the application of climate information and the assessment of the impact of climate variability (see  These efforts are finding ways that industries and decision makers can learn to use climate information, ways that climate forecasters can tailor forecast products to provide for the needs of industries, and new ways that communication can be established to continue this process.  By the time the next ENSO event rolls around, I expect that more large corporations will rely on climate forecasts.

7:21) 06-APR-1998 10:04 Dr. C. Mark Eakin (meakin)


It's hot off the computers: the multivariate El Niņo index has just been updated showing that the warming through March continued to be just slightly below the values from 1983.  March was the peak of the 82-83 event as well, so the declines in strength that are being seen in the satellite and in situ observations follow the expected pattern.  Check out for the latest comparison, just updated on Saturday.

7:22) 06-APR-1998 10:20 Dr. C. Mark Eakin (meakin)

Thanks to all of you for your interest.  This has been an interesting new medium for interchanging information.  You can keep track of this event as it cools down at our web site:  I will continue to keep this up to date and will have information on the El Niņo post-mortem planned to evaluate the event, our ability to observe and predict it, and the success of efforts to mitigate its negative impacts.  Perhaps the focus will soon turn to the next La Niņa.  

Cheers all,

7:23) 06-APR-1998 10:50 Peter Tuddenham (peter)

thank you Mark, tremendous coverage of a fascinating subject.

On to next item:  Pass