PerspectiveOceans

Not So Permanent El Niño

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Science  04 Apr 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6179, pp. 52-53
DOI: 10.1126/science.1252246

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Summary

Knowledge of the behavior of the tropical oceans under different climate conditions is important for understanding not only past climate change but also present and future global warming, especially given the recent finding that the cool state of the equatorial Pacific might be the cause of the current global warming hiatus (1). On page 84 of this issue, Zhang et al. evaluate the long-term evolution of tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures (SSTs) since 12 million years ago (2). They conclude that the equatorial Pacific was warmer during the Pliocene (5.3 to 2.6 million years ago) and late Miocene (12.0 to 5.3 million years ago) than it is today and that the temperature difference between the eastern and western tropical Pacific that is a fundamental characteristic of today's ocean was present (although somewhat smaller than it is today) during these warmer time intervals.