Posted by: Carl | May 22, 2009

Ten Questions for Alarmists about the El Nino/Southern Oscillation

1.) Below is a graph of sea surface temperature in the Northwest Pacific.

NW Pacific

In 1987, temperatures broke with previous, mild variability, in one of the most sudden warming events during the entire temperature record, stretching back to 1854.  Why?  And why did the event occur again in 1998?

This behavior occurred not only in the NW Pacific, but in the South Pacific Ocean, the Indonesian Throughflow, and the Indian Ocean.  However, it is most pronounced and impossible to ignore in the NW Pacific.  It is also important to note that El Ninos actually reduce average temperature in the North Pacific, so the fact that temperatures rose so dramatically during both events cannot be explained by the normal, short-term redistributive effect of the El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO).  The 1986/7 and 1997/8 El Ninos were the only major El Ninos to occur since the climate shift of 1976 that did not coincide with the aftermath of volcanic eruptions.  Currently, “climate science” refuses to acknowledge any long-term, radiative effects of ENSO.  Perhaps the first step is recognizing the 1986/7 and 1997/8 El Ninos’ impact on the NW Pacific.


2.) Below is a map of sea level trend from late 1992 to the present.

sea level change

Why has by far the largest amount of sea level change been in the West Pacific?  Is it just coincidence that this is where water from the South and North Equatorial Currents feed into?  Many El Ninos are destroyed by cool water driving East along the Equatorial Counter-Current.  The warm water is split apart, driven North and South into their respective, Westward currents, as shown in the maps below (temperature averaged in the upper 300 meters, Nov 1997, Jan 1998, March 1998, May 1998.)





These currents then feed into the exact areas that have seen the greatest increase in sea level, as shown below.

cropped currents

The sea level rise, associated with rising ocean heat content, appears off of the Philippines and the island of New Guinea, which is exactly where the North and South Equatorial currents feed to.  It appears that excess heat that enters into the ocean during an El Nino event is transported by these currents into the West Pacific and then spreads out across the Pacific and Indian Ocean.

So what is an alternate explanation for this pattern of sea level change, which is not predicted by the global circulation models?


3.) Below is a graph of ENSO-adjusted sea surface temperatures for the South Pacific.  For details on how it was created, see my post “How ENSO Rules the Oceans.”


Underneath ENSO, is the South Pacific really exhibiting the sort of behavior expected with a smooth increase in forcing?  In the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, South Pacific SSTs seem to have been out-of-sync with ENSO, producing wild swings in my graph.  Then, in 1970, SST fell back in sync.  Temperatures remained flat until the global climate shift of 1976-8, when the region experienced a step change in temperature.  Then, once again, flat temperatures persisted for two decades until the 1997/8 El Nino, which provided another step change in temperatures.  Temperatures have been flat since.  Is this erratic sort of behavior, where warming is characterized by step-changes, really what an enhanced greenhouse effect is expected to do to ocean temperatures?


4.) The past century saw four regimes of temperature behavior, as shown below in a graph of ENSO-adjusted SST (created in the same way as the South Pacific graph).

enso globa;

The dates when SST changed behavior are 1944, 1976, and 1998.  Below is a graph of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), the integrated effect of ENSO on sea surface patterns in the North Pacific.


The dates when the PDO changed phase are 1942, 1976, and 1998.

Is the PDO driving global warming?  Or is it merely modulating the rate of warming?  Even if you only accept that the latter is true, then isn’t the natural rate of warming half of that observed from 1976 to 1998?


5.) Below is a graph made by Bob Tisdale, showing the running sum (integral) of ENSO versus SST.

enso running sum

If we treat ENSO as a forcing, by integrating the anomaly values, we reproduce global SST with astounding accuracy.   Why is this true if ENSO is not driving global temperatures?


6.) After an El Nino event that lasted for over three years (the longest on record), a strange anomaly occurred in global SST data from 1941 to 1946.  Many have discounted it, suggesting that it is merely the product of poor data.  However, the same strange behavior occurred in air temperature and cloud cover data.


Is it a coincidence that the longest El Nino of the century was followed by very anomalous SST behavior?


7.) Data shows that ENSO drives the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), and that the AMOC drives the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO).



After the climate shift of 1976, ENSO and the AMOC fell into sync.  The 1997/8 El Nino caused a long-term slowing of the AMOC, as shown by the data.  Does this indicate that ENSO drives the AMO?


8.) Below is a graph of Indian Ocean SST and ENSO.

I vs

During the 1986/7 and 1997/8 El Ninos, SST rose with ENSO; however, after the events ended and strong La Ninas began, SST failed to fall back to expected levels.  So why did the Indian Ocean not recover from these two El Ninos?


9.) It is often ignored that ENSO is associated with notable changes in cloud cover in the tropics.



During El Ninos, outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) is trapped by increasing high and middle cloud cover in the Cold Tongue.  More OLR is allowed to escape in the Indo-Pacific Warm Pool, but to a lesser extent.  This is shown by the map below, which correlates OLR with ENSO.


During El Nino, general cloud cover decreases at all levels in the Indo-Pacific Warm Pool.  While outgoing longwave (LW) radiation increases due to a decrease in high-level cloud cover, incoming shortwave (SW) radiation also increases due to a decrease in low-level cloud cover, offsetting some of the effect.  The graph below shows SW radiation over the warm pool. The graph is from this paper.  (h/t to Bob Tisdale again)


The tropics is where the Earth’s energy gain occurs; the Pacific and Indian oceans drive global climate.  Since SW and LW fluxes are so sensitive to ENSO in these regions, is it not possible these opening and closing atmospheric windows make ENSO radiative?


10.)  Are you still sure that ENSO is merely a re-distribution of water, and that after the event, the Earth returns to its previous state?  Or is ENSO a radiative oscillation, injecting heat into the system by opening and closing atmospheric windows in the tropics?

In conclusion, the question we must ask is how can we attribute global warming to increasing atmospheric concentration of CO2 when we have neither identified nor explained the specific rises that have composed in the “global warming” trend.

Suppose that you were asked to describe the motion of the planets in order to investigate the forces involved in keeping the planets in orbit.  Would you find the center of mass of the solar system, excluding the sun, and collect data describing how the single center of mass moves?  Or would you collect data describing the motion of each planet?

Each planet has a distinctly different orbital path, and focusing on the center of mass of all the planets combined removes that information.  Yet, the path of each planet does depend on the path of the other planets, so data from the planets are related to one another.  There is one unifying force determining the motion of each planet; however, to discover the force, one must have information on the behavior of each planet.  The effects of gravity have unique effects on each planet, depending upon the involved planets’ masses and the distance between planets.  For this reason, we must collect information on the movement of each planet so that we can create a cohesive theory.

Similarly, suppose that you were asked to describe climate change on Earth.  Would you look to global averages, removing distinct and important trends?  Or would you break down the climate system regionally so that no variation is destroyed by averages?  This is one reason climate science has failed at properly describing climate.  The enhanced greenhouse theory requires a forcing that is global in nature; therefore, it would make sense to emphasize global climate, rather than regional climate.  After decades of political involvement, the science is now too stubborn to look at actual regional variation, even though it exposes a picture completely different from that of global averages.  There may be one phenomenon that dominates the global climate picture (like gravity in the solar system), but the effects may show up differently in different parts of the system (like unique paths of each planet).  In global climate, this is the El Nino/Southern Oscillation phenomenon.

The El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon has implications far beyond its immediate impact on global temperatures and completely unrecognized by the scientific community.  When strong El Nino events occur uninterrupted by volcanic eruptions, long-term step changes in temperature occur in the Pacific, Indian, and North Atlantic Oceans due to changes in cloud cover and oceanic circulation.



Sea Level: Topex & Jason data from University of Colorado

Avg Temp in Upper 300m Maps: ECMWF

Clouds: ISCCP, Low, Middle, High

Current Map: University of Texas Libraries




OLR: NOAA Interpolated OLR

Nino 3.4: ERSST v3b



  1. Carl: In addition to step changes that result from significant ENSO events, there is another phenomenon that helps explain long-term changes in temperature in response to ENSO events.

    Consider the possibility that the phenomenon of reemergance is the way that global oceans integrate the effects of ENSO events. Reemergence of SST anomalies during winter and spring months occurs in both hemispheres, in all major oceans. I haven’t yet found a way to illustrate it graphically on a global basis, but it MAY be visible in individual ocean datasets as repeated ENSO signals. That’s my next project.

  2. Bob, Carl, Earl,

    I have a climate theory that I have been working on and would like your feedback. How can I send it to you?

    Jim Powell

  3. […] us anything about the source of warming.  I’ve outlined all of this in previous posts (1, 2, 3) , so there’s no reason to copy graphs […]

  4. […] It is for this reason that the conclusions of the paper are not supported by the work in their paper. All they establish is that ENSO drives global temperatures over the short-term; they do nothing to show it would explain the trend. Unless they challenged the conventional view of ENSO as non-radiative, their case holds no water. With that said, there is significant evidence that ENSO may in fact be radiative, particularly the 1976/7, 1986/7, and 1997/8 events. For more information on how the data demonstrate that ENSO is a radiative oscillation, visit my blog, here. […]

  5. Your theory is almost perfect. What you say:
    nitrous oxides from the mesosphere that govern the concentration of ozone and therefore the temperature of the upper atmosphere

    I would suggest, instead, a open mechanism:
    Electric fields (call it electrons from the Sun, or the “little pebbles” of the “flintstones universe”believers) cause the formation of O3, then proton flares from the same Sun or cosmic rays (90% protons=Hydrogen nucleii) reduce Ozone, making that fearsome “ozone hole”, and reacting with it producing WATER. The water cycle being NOT closed but open. There you are your ice crystals you need for cooling the atmosphere….and, last not least, the ice cube making machine of the antarctica.

  6. The production of water out of Ozone and protons it is perfectly testable.

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