El Nino Open Circle Item 2

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Item 2  09-MAR-1998 08:44 Peter Tuddenham (peter)

Thinking about starting a discussion here in Open Space but not sure about your topic or the level of interest?  
This is a good place to tell us what you're thinking and see what kind of response you get!

2:1) 09-MAR-1998 12:04 Kristina Bishop, Ed.D. (tina)

I would be interested in learning from the scientists any beneficial aspects of El Nino. There are so many negative impacts but wanted to hear about any positive effects.

2:2) 09-MAR-1998 18:25 Jorge Vazquez (jvazquez)

Hi Kristina,
Your question is excellent. There has been a lot of emphasis on
the negative aspects of El Nino, but all of it is not negative
there are some positive aspects. For example here in California
the ski industry is having an absolutely great year.  There
are definite economic factors involved in this. For example
many resorts this year will not have to make snow.  In addition
the water situation in Southern California, with the reservoirs
now filled, should be stable for several years.  


2:3) 10-MAR-1998 08:50 Kristina Bishop, Ed.D. (tina)

Thanks, Jorge,  

With water at such a premium in CA, it does make sense that El Nino effects can really help the water supply.

2:4) 10-MAR-1998 10:03 Don Chambers (dchambers)

Another benefit of El Nino is that it helps to reduce hurricanes in the Atlantic.  Although this is not caused directly by the ocean warming in the eastern Pacific, the winds which drive El Nino cause increased shear which disrupts normal hurricane activity in the Atlantic.  The number of hurricanes last season was much less than predicted because of El Nino.  

On the other hand, though, El Nino was probably partly responsible for the two intense hurricanes in the eastern Pacific that travelled up the west coast of Mexico and California.  Storms in that region usually head west toward the open ocean, but, because of the wind direction, and the warm surface water, they stayed in the eastern Pacific.  

2:5) 10-MAR-1998 15:44 Stephen Brown (sbrown)

The waters from El Nino created a 185 km lake in Northern Peru where there was once only desert!  

I'm interested in the rhythms of El Niño and how these rhythms correlate with other planetary and cosmic rhythms. Deciphering El Niño rhythms will improve weather prediction (and help me decide whether to sell my house on the coast and move to the highlands!). Matching up El Nino rhythms with other planetary rhythms would help with global planning and survival of some potentially much greater catastrophes.  

I was surprised when Jorge mentioned a rhythm of El Nino returning every 3 to 5 years. Here in Ecuador they say El Niño occurs every 12 years or so. The last
major one that hit was in 1982 - 16 years ago. Is there a rhythm of small el niños every 4 years on average and a large El Nino every 16? Might there even be a larger rhythm of gigantic EL NINOS every 256 years? Or is it a truly unpredictable event?  

What is the correlation of El Niño with sun spot activity? with sun growth or shrinkage? with ice ages? with comets? with planetary alignments? with polar shifts? How can an understanding of Chaos Theory help with prediction?  

What other knowledge is available to assist with prediction of climactic and other catastrophic events? How can non-rigorous “sciences” such as astrology assist? What knowledge from other civilizations (eg. Mayans) can help uncover the rhythms of the planet?  

Perhaps the oscillations of El Niño are tied to some larger geologic and cosmic events. Who is currently researching all these potential correlations? It would be interesting to overlay the oscillations of many of these rhythms and see where we really are in the timing of big planetary events.

2:6) 10-MAR-1998 17:06 Don Chambers (dchambers)

I'll take a stab at Stephen's questions.  First of all, historically, El Nino (defined as anomalous warming in the eastern Pacific) has occurred every 3 to 5 years.  Recently, though, there has been a change.  There was a relatively large El Nino in 1987, another in 1991, then smaller El Ninos in 1993 and 1994.  There has been some speculation (most notably a paper by Trenberth and Hoar in Geophysical Res. Letters) that this may be caused by global warming, although there is intense debate about this.  

The only correlation I know between El Nino and any other geophysical parameter is the correlation with the Southern Oscillation and wind variations.  I've seen some papers attempting to correlatate El Nino with the solar cycle, but the results are not really convincing.  

We don't really have enough data to link with other events like ice ages, although coral samples are beginning to lengthen the record.  I see no reason why El Nino would be linked with comets or planetary alignments.  The gravitational effect is miniscule compared to the sun and moon, which do not have any significant 3 to 5 year signal in their orbits.

2:7) 11-MAR-1998 17:16 Susan E Yoder (syoder)

I am trying to get a discussion going on the beneficial effects of El Nino over in the Breakout Session on Biological Effects.  One I have come up with is the heavy rains in the Southwest US will bring an absolutely wonderfull wildflower display to the deserts here.  This will be a beautifull Spring! Can you think of more?  Chime in over in my Breakout Session.

2:8) 12-MAR-1998 14:19 Cathleen Cannon (ccannon)

Sonoma County, Ca. has had a considerable amout of extra rain this February,which has totally flushed all creeks and tributaries.  Many of our creeks and rivers have various species of Salmon which try each year to return from the sea to spawn inland.  Some years there is not enough water in the creeks for the fish to get upstream.  This year are creeks are full of water and it will take along time for them to return to the dry stream bed.  I am expecting there to be ample water for the Salmon to find a spot to spawn, hatch and return to the sea.  What do you think?

2:9) 12-MAR-1998 16:45 Stephen Brown (sbrown)


thanks for your considerate response. It helped me to investigate more.

I checked out your website - great site - very informative. The graph of the sea-level anomally helped us to see the rhythm. Now where could I go for more historical data?

I looked up the Trenberth and Hoar article at: http://www.physics.iastate.edu/gcp/elnino/trenberth.html
It was interesting but didn't have any bibliographic info.

This appears to be a great place to start for gathering data but the link to the online data servers didn't work:

I copied this link from your site to put here as it also looks like a great place to start:

Here is some info on 1982-83 - the "worst" El Nino event ever recorded:
"And perhaps the most striking effect of the 1982-1983 El Niño was recorded by David Salstein and Richard Rosten of Atmospheric and Environmental Research, Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They found that the angular momentum of Earth shifted slightly as a result of changes in the normal pattern of the jet stream and trade winds. In late January, at El Niño's peak, the day length stretched by 0.2 milliseconds. "

There appears to be at least two definitions of El Nino:1. Anomalous warming in the eastern Pacific occuring every 3 to 5 years as defined by the scientists at this conference. 2. Torrential downpours causing widespread flooding every 12 to 15 years as defined by locals in Ecuador. I realize that #1 is a cause for #2.

My point is that local effects must be taken into consideration when analyzing data. It is neat to be able to analyze data from satelites but the data shows only a very recent pattern. The heavy flooding that knocked out all of Ecuador's transportation system in 1982-83 is being repeated this year 1997-98. The country has lost at least half of its bridges and half of its banana crop so far! Some ethnographic studies might help add some historical frequency data to the record.

2:10) 12-MAR-1998 17:38 Don Chambers (dchambers)


I agree that local information has to be taken into account.  Unfortuantely, there is not as much as there is of the satellite data.  Also, the satellite data can help us start to see interconnections.  Twenty years ago, very few people would have linked excessive rainfall in Equador with more snow in the midwest, for example.  Now, we can start to see a link.  

There are extremes in all variations, and El Nino is no different.  While the two largest events were separated by 15 years, I don't think there was an abnormally large El Nino 15 years earlier.  There was a time in the 1950s when there does not appear to be any El Nino.  Our observations are just too limited to really see any discerable variations other than the 3 to 5 year value that we like to use.  

I know people have been looking a corals in the Pacific to get a longer El Nino record.  I'll try to find a web-page and post it here.

2:11) 12-MAR-1998 17:47 Phyllis Grifman (pgrifman)

We have compiled some links on the USC Sea Grant El Nino resource page (which you can access from http://www.usc.edu/go/seagrant/elnino/ )
Included are some links to pages  with information about various biological effects, including coral reefs, etc.  There might be some information there about ethnographic or other studies

2:12) 12-MAR-1998 18:11 Charlene I. Branch (cbranch)

Does this Arctic blast that we are getting in Kansas -24 degrees F  come from El Nino as according to our weatherman the Arctic has been unable to release the cold temp. until now.  Is this typical warm Pacific with excessive cold Arctic?

2:13) 16-MAR-1998 19:44 Tony Michaels (tmichaels)

I put a few ideas about economic implications, both positive and negative, in the "economic implications" breakout group.  There are obviously both.  If folks want to dive into these in more detail, let's go for it!

2:14) 17-MAR-1998 20:07 Tom Nolan (tnolan)

To all,
Here's a question that I posed to Stephen Brown regarding El Nino and the Galapagos Islands. Following is his most helpful response that I thought that others might enjoy reading.  

Dear Steve,
I am the Project Specialist for USC's Wrigley Institute and have been asked a question who's answer you may already know.  

How will El Nino affect the Galapagos Islands, especially what species shifts are occuring there. This question comes from a science educator who takes groups to the islands and is interested in what he can learn before the trip. He's very excited to witness what effects El Nino is having and how widespread it is.  

You mentioned that you are getting wet, and we in Southern California had one of our wettest Februarys ever. It looks like March will be warm and allow the plants a chance to show their stuff in great abundance.  

It's great to e-meet you and I look forward to your response.  

Tom Nolan  

Dear Tom,  

thanks for your questions. I'll do my best to answer them with my limited knowledge.  

>How will El Nino affect the Galapagos Islands, especially what species shifts are occuring there.  

I'm not sure how many of these effects can be attributed to El Nino.
1. Last year many of the tortoises caught a disease and died. The theory was that the goats had eaten a moss that the tortoises depended on. They had to burn all the carcases of the dead tortoises. Now they are finally hunting the goats that were introduced and flourished.
2. There are many birds and marine animals that depend on the cold uprising water. Now that the water is warm the cycle is disrupted. I don't know which species are directly affected. There was a report in the local newspapers a few weeks ago.  

Here are a few leads:
http://www.ecua.net.ec/ - our provider
http://www.eluniverso.com - Guayaquil newspaper
http://www.elcomercio.com/ - Quito newspaper
http://www.ecuadorexplorer.com/html/about_ecuador.html - tourism info  

>You mentioned that you are getting wet, and we in Southern California had >one of our wettest Februarys ever. It looks like March will be warm and >allow the plants a chance to show their stuff in great abundance.  

There are rumors that it will rain all year here. Normally it rains only during the months of jan, feb mar here. I love rain but it has been devastating here. The road system is in ruins. Many bridges have been washed out. Many crops have been destroyed. Ecuador's rail system never recovered from EL NINO of '82-'83.  




Stephen Brown
Technology Coordinator, Computer Science Teacher
Inter-American Academy, Guayaquil, Ecuador
Phone: 593-4-874075    Fax: 593-4-873358
http://www.acig.k12.ec (online Mon-Fri 730am-4pm EST)

2:15) 27-MAR-1998 17:03 Mark Eakin (meakin)

For some information on what corals can tell about past El Niño events, including a record from the Galapagos, you can check out a web site on coral paleoclimatology:

2:16) 27-MAR-1998 17:59 Kristina (Tina) Bishop (tina)

Interesting site, Mark. Thanks for the link. It ties in with some other work we are doing so it is very helpful.

On to next item:  Pass