Meteorological Aspects of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation

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Science  16 Dec 1983:
Vol. 222, Issue 4629, pp. 1195-1202
DOI: 10.1126/science.222.4629.1195


The single most prominent signal in year-to-year climate variability is the Southern Oscillation, which is associated with fluctuations in atmospheric pressure at sea level in the tropics, monsoon rainfall, and wintertime circulation over North America and other parts of the extratropics. Although meteorologists have known about the Southern Oscillation for more than a half-century, its relation to the oceanic El Niño phenomenon was not recognized until the late 1960's, and a theoretical understanding of these relations has begun to emerge only during the past few years. The past 18 months have been characterized by what is probably the most pronounced and certainly the best-documented El Niño/Southern Oscillation episode of the past century. In this review meteorological aspects of the time history of the 1982-1983 episode are described and compared with a composite based on six previous events between 1950 and 1975, and the impact of these new observations on theoretical interpretations of the event is discussed.