El Nino may quell warming debate

08 May, 2015 06:26 AM
Last year, we were over-confident. This year, we will be under-confident

ANALYSIS: ROUGHLY a year ago, scientists poring over temperature readings of the Pacific from satellites and a depleted array of ocean buoys were so sure an El Nino was on the way, the debate was mostly how strong it would be.

The event, though, failed to materialise largely because the winds failed to reverse their normal course and blow to the east. Without the reinforcement, the relative warmth of the eastern Pacific compared with the west broke up, and an El Nino did not occur.

That false start is one reason authorities have been 'gun shy' this time around, said Cai Wenju, a CSIRO climate modeller who has published widely on El Ninos and their counterparts, La Ninas.

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  • "Last year, we were over-confident. This year, we will be under-confident," Dr Cai told Fairfax Media during a visit to Hawaii, where the current conditions are being discussed.

    In fact, El Nino-like conditions persisted throughout the past year. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which has a lower threshold of temperature anomalies than the Bureau of Meteorology for gauging such events, stated in March that "the long-anticipated El Nino has finally arrived".

    Usually conditions in the Pacific reset in the southern autumn, creating a so-called predictability barrier that makes it harder to tell what's coming later in the year.

    This year, though, the signals are particularly strong, with El Nino conditions intensifying.

    A strong El Nino doesn't necessarily mean temperatures and rainfall deficiencies in Australia will be worse than in a more moderate event.

    But a powerful one – such as in 1997 – tends to have a bigger impact on worldwide temperatures given the driving role played in the global climate by the Pacific.

    The temperature spike in the following year created such a high record that it fostered debate in years since that global warming may have slowed since temperature readings have only inched above 1988 – in 2005, 2010 and 2014 – even as greenhouse gas emissions continued to climb.

    While the link between climate change and El Nino is an area of active research – including by Dr Cai who has projected a doubling of the frequency of severe El Ninos and La Ninos this century – another El Nino-fuelled leap in global temperatures this year or next may quell some of the debate about a "hiatus" in warming.

    Here's NOAA's ranking of warmest years:

    Date: Newest first | Oldest first


    6/08/2015 7:41:46 AM

    El Nino's and La Nina's are real. Man made cagw/climate change and its entire belief system are just imaginary problems that never existed in the first place.
    11/05/2015 8:48:44 PM

    If they keep forcasting it, it will eventually turn up, weather changes all the time, no story here.
    11/05/2015 6:26:39 PM

    Whatever happened to that ozone layer that was being rapidly depleted,and we were all going to burn up? Of course,global warming took over didn't it?What will the boffins dream up next?
    11/05/2015 10:01:42 AM

    Bit of wishful thinking going here. But there's two sides to this one. If we have a very strong El Nino that DOESN'T produce a decisive temperature record, will THAT quell the warming debate.... Some how I don't think so.
    11/05/2015 8:40:32 AM

    Boonah Bob, you can change the weather, cloud seeding is actually very common.
    Boonah Bob
    11/05/2015 7:46:30 AM

    Sack the lot of them. You cannot change the weather, deal with it when it arrives.
    11/05/2015 6:50:28 AM

    We used to be told that the Nino/Nina phenomenon had nothing to do with the general veracity of global warming. Now the hopes are for an El Nino to nudge the inconvenient Pause. How things change ...
    10/05/2015 10:13:54 AM

    How can meteorologists predict the I O D and the S O I using climate change when in reality the climate change scientists are using is one based on computers using hypothetical data . The climate has been changing since earth began long before human induced climate change was invented .
    8/05/2015 10:46:15 AM

    Come on Nico, will that get it right this year?
    8/05/2015 7:46:20 AM

    Blah blah blah


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