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Proxy evidence for an El Niño-like response to volcanic forcing

Abstract

Past studies have suggested a statistical connection between explosive volcanic eruptions and subsequent El Niño climate events1,2. This connection, however, has remained controversial3,4,5. Here we present support for a response of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon6,7 to forcing from explosive volcanism by using two different palaeoclimate reconstructions of El Niño activity8,9 and two independent, proxy-based chronologies of explosive volcanic activity5 from ad 1649 to the present. We demonstrate a significant, multi-year, El Niño-like response to explosive tropical volcanic forcing over the past several centuries. The results imply roughly a doubling of the probability of an El Niño event occurring in the winter following a volcanic eruption. Our empirical findings shed light on how the tropical Pacific ocean–atmosphere system may respond to exogenous (both natural and anthropogenic) radiative forcing.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported (M.E.M. and J.B.A.) by the NOAA- and NSF-supported ‘Earth Systems History’ programme and the NCAR-Early Career Scientist Assembly (C.M.A.). We thank R. S. Bradley for his support of C.M.A. during early stages of this work, R. E. Davis for suggestions with respect to the statistical procedure, and A. Robock and K. Trenberth for comments on the manuscript. The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

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Correspondence to J. Brad Adams.

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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

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Further reading

Figure 1: Long-term behaviour of ENSO.
Figure 2: Reconstructed, cold-season NINO3 SEA results.

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