El Niño-Southern Oscillation

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A photo from space of El Niño

El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO in short) is a term describing a natural event that takes place in the Pacific Ocean. It is also called El Niño and La Niña. El Nino and La Nina are English words for the Spanish words El Niño and La Niña. In Spanish they mean the "little boy" and the "little girl". El Niño is used in Spanish for to describe the infant Jesus Christ.

El Niño is when the sea water temperature rises in surface waters of the tropical Pacific Ocean. Every two to five years the Pacific Ocean has an event called El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). This is a weak, warm current that starts every year around Christmas time along the coast of Ecuador and Peru. It lasts for only a few weeks to a month or more. Every three to seven years, an El Niño event may last for many months. This can change the weather and have important effects on economies around the world. Australia and Southeast Asia can have drought but the deserts of Peru have very heavy rainfall. East Africa can have both. In a La Nina event the weather patterns are reversed.

The Southern Oscillation had been discovered by Sir Gilbert Walker in 1923.[1] It is a "seesaw" of atmospheric pressure between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. There is an inverse relationship between the air pressure measured at two sites: Darwin, Australia, in the Indian Ocean and the island of Tahiti in the South Pacific. The Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) is the difference in sea-level pressure measured at Darwin and Tahiti. The Cold Tongue (CT) Index measures how much the average sea-surface temperature in the central and eastern Pacific near the equator varies from the annual cycle. The two measurements are anti-correlated, so that a negative SOI is usually together with an unsual warm ocean wind known as El Nino.

By the early 1980s it was clear that El Niño and the Southern Oscillation were related, and the acronym ENSO is used to describe this large-scale event.

The 2010-2011 Queensland floods were caused by a La Nina event which brought very heavy rain to the east coast of Australia. Other big floods in Australia have also happened during a La Nina, 1916, 1917, 1950, 1954-1956, and 1973-1975.[2] The cost of the 2010-2011 Queensland floods has been worked out to A$30 billion.[3]

Central Pacific El Niño[change | change source]

Not all El Niños happen in the Eastern Pacific. During recent decades, Central Pacific El Niños have been discovered. When these happen, the effects from CP El Niños are very different from traditional El Niños. Central Pacific El Niños took place in 1986-1988, 1991-1992, 1994-1995, 2002-2003, 2004-2005, 2006-2007 and 2009-2010[4].

References[change | change source]