SITE VISIT: Pacific Climate's Slow Swing

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Science  04 Aug 2000:
Vol. 289, Issue 5480, pp. 691
DOI: 10.1126/science.289.5480.691d

In 1977 the climate of the north Pacific Ocean suddenly changed, and people noticed. California surfers began riding unusually big waves, fishers off Alaska hauled in record catches, and Seattle residents got a break from the rain. Two decades later, scientists dubbed the phenomenon the Pacific Decadal Oscillation or PDO, an El Niño-like variation of ocean temperatures that is centered in the North Pacific but influences climate across North America. Now, climate researchers are watching to see if the mid-1998 appearance of cooler ocean waters will mark the beginning of a new 20- to 30-year swing in the PDO's cycle. You can follow the unfolding story along with the experts at the Pacific Decadal Oscillation Web site.

The site, developed by climatologists Nathan Mantua and Steven Hare of the University of Washington, Seattle, shows and tells readers what the PDO is and provides a bibliography. A page of news article links leads to coverage that is less frequent than that of the better known and faster paced El Niño. A plot of Mantua's PDO Index—a summation of North Pacific sea surface temperatures—and links to other data tied to North Pacific climate, such as fishery catches, provide a front-row seat to the climate show that could be influencing your weather for the next 30 years.

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