Review Article | Published:

The impact of global warming on the tropical Pacific Ocean and El Niño

Nature Geoscience volume 3, pages 391397 (2010) | Download Citation

Abstract

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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Acknowledgements

The authors prepared this Review on behalf of the Climate Variability and Predictability (CLIVAR) Pacific Panel.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. College of Engineering Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Harrison Building, Streatham Campus, University of Exeter, Exeter, EX4 4QF, UK and Met Office Hadley Centre, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, EX1 3PB, UK

    • Mat Collins
  2. Department of Atmospheric Sciences/Global Environmental Lab, Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea

    • Soon-Il An
  3. CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research — Aspendale, 107–121 Station Street, Aspendale VIC 3195, Australia

    • Wenju Cai
  4. Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement BP A5, 98848 Noumea, New Caledonia

    • Alexandre Ganachaud
  5. IPSL/LOCEAN, Paris, France and NCAS–Climate, University of Reading, UK

    • Eric Guilyardi
  6. Department of Meteorology, SOEST, University of Hawaii, 2525 Correa Road, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA

    • Fei-Fei Jin
  7. National Center for Atmospheric Research, Oceanography Section, Room 415, 1850, Table Mesa Drive, Boulder, Colorado 80305, USA

    • Markus Jochum
  8. Physical Oceanography Division, National Institute of Oceanography, Dona Paula, Goa 403004, India and IPSL/LOCEAN, Paris, France and NCAS–Climate, University of Reading, UK

    • Matthieu Lengaigne
  9. CAWCR, GPO Box 1289, Bureau of Meteorology, Melbourne, Victoria 3001, Australia

    • Scott Power
  10. IPRC, Department of Oceanography, SOEST, University of Hawaii, 2525 Correa Road, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA

    • Axel Timmermann
  11. GFDL, Princeton University Forrestal Campus, 201 Forrestal Road, Princeton, New Jersey 08540-6649, USA

    • Gabe Vecchi
    •  & Andrew Wittenberg

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Mat Collins.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo868

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