The El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a naturally occurring fluctuation that originates in the tropical Pacific region and affects ecosystems, agriculture, freshwater supplies, hurricanes and other severe weather events worldwide. Under the influence of global warming, the mean climate of the Pacific region will probably undergo significant changes. The tropical easterly trade winds are expected to weaken; surface ocean temperatures are expected to warm fastest near the equator and more slowly farther away; the equatorial thermocline that marks the transition between the wind-mixed upper ocean and deeper layers is expected to shoal; and the temperature gradients across the thermocline are expected to become steeper. Year-to-year ENSO variability is controlled by a delicate balance of amplifying and damping feedbacks, and one or more of the physical processes that are responsible for determining the characteristics of ENSO will probably be modified by climate change. Therefore, despite considerable progress in our understanding of the impact of climate change on many of the processes that contribute to El Niño variability, it is not yet possible to say whether ENSO activity will be enhanced or damped, or if the frequency of events will change.
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The authors prepared this Review on behalf of the Climate Variability and Predictability (CLIVAR) Pacific Panel.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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Collins, M., An, SI., Cai, W. et al. The impact of global warming on the tropical Pacific Ocean and El Niño. Nature Geosci 3, 391–397 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo868
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