Predicting El Niño's Impacts

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Science  03 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5936, pp. 47
DOI: 10.1126/science.1176515

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The quasi-periodic cycle of warming and cooling in the eastern, near-equatorial Pacific Ocean known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is associated with marked ocean temperature changes in the tropics and with long-range weather connections across the globe. In western South America, the cool phase (La Niña) brings dry conditions and excellent fishing in the nutrient-rich upwelling water, whereas the warm phase (El Niño) leads to floods and cutbacks in the fishing industry (1). But the notoriety of ENSO lies in its impact on seasonal weather around the globe, from droughts in Australia, to changes in the Indian summer monsoon and global tropical cyclone activity. In a landmark report on page 77 of this issue (2), Kim et al. revisit the structure of ENSO. The study has important consequences for the predictability of global weather patterns.