Recent Variability in the Southern Oscillation: Isotopic Results from a Tarawa Atoll Coral

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Science  18 Jun 1993:
Vol. 260, Issue 5115, pp. 1790-1793
DOI: 10.1126/science.260.5115.1790


In the western tropical Pacific, the interannual migration of the Indonesian Low convective system causes changes in rainfall that dominate the regional signature of the El Niño—Southern Oscillation (ENSO) system. A 96-year oxygen isotope record from a Tarawa Atoll coral (1°N, 172°E) reflects regional convective activity through rainfall-induced salinity changes. This monthly resolution record spans twice the length of the local climatological record and provides a history of ENSO variability comparable in quality with those derived from instrumental climate data. Comparison of this coral record with a historical chronology of EI Niño events indicates that climate anomalies in coastal South America are occasionally decoupled from Pacific-wide ENSO extremes. Spectral analysis suggests that the distribution of variance in this record has shifted among annual to interannual periods during the present century, concurrent with observed changes in the strength of the Southern Oscillation.