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US atmospheric scientists predict intense El Nino

Sarina Locke, Monday March 24, 2014 - 14:19 EDT

The sub surface temperature of the eastern Pacific Ocean is measuring an 'astounding' six degrees warmer than normal for this time of year.

A team of US atmospheric scientists says that points to a major El Nino event forming to rival the record event nearly 20 years ago.

El Nino is associated with dry conditions and reduced monsoons in Australia and Indonesia, but wetter weather in Central America.

Paul E. Roundy, associate professor of atmospheric science at the University at Albany, New York, says there's been a series of westerly winds that amplify waves, moving warm currents of water thousands of kilometres and moving a surge of warm water from west to east.

That pushes the warm water to considerable depths.

"It's close to a 70 or 80 per cent chance of a major event," Associate Professor Roundy said.

"The Climate Prediction Centre would disagree and set the rates lower.

"But I'm thinking in the context of what we observe in the ocean right now, is consistent with that kind of major event developing.

"No guarantee! But it is consistent.

"The only time that (the six-degree warming) has ever happened before, this time of the year, was in that March of 1997 event. So it highlights the risk, even though there's only one event like that.

"With only one event we don't have a long enough historical record of similar events to say what fraction of them become El Ninos.

"It's 'suggestive' of a major El Nino, but since there's only one past event we have to compare with, we can't know for sure what that outcome would be, so we have to look at models for assistance, and yet the models have deficiencies in predicting the outcome."

Professor Roundy is disappointed that some of the to measure temperature in the equatorial Pacific are now missing.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology is releasing its own update on the El Nino Southern Oscillation ENSO on Tuesday March 25, but the in early March points to 'more than 4 °C above average around 150 m depth in the central Pacific'.

"This.... pool of warmer-than-average water (is) developing and progressing across the Pacific," the BOM said.

"Such down welling Kelvin wave events can be driven by westerly winds over the western tropical Pacific.

"If this pool of warmer-than-average sub-surface water rises to the surface in the eastern tropical Pacific, this may lead to surface warming and the formation of an El Nino."


- ABC

© ABC 2014

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