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Listening to El Niño

Listening to El Niño
Reported by
Jill Pope

Posted October 15, 2009

Presented By

Atmospheric Sciences and Geology Section


El Niño is a warming of the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean that has far-ranging impact on global weather. The strongest El Niños of the past century occurred in 1982-1983 and 1997-1998, when sea-surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific rose more than three degrees Celsius above normal. In a November 29, 2005, lecture sponsored by the Academy's Atmospheric Sciences and Geology Section, Mark Cane of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory discussed what El Niño is, how it affects people, and what we know about how the cycle has behaved in the past. He discussed the history of ideas about El Niño, evidence of El Niño's effects over geological history, and how orbital changes of the Earth affected the phenomenon, among other topics.

Use the tabs to find a meeting report and multimedia from this event.

Web Sites

Climate Modeling and Diagnostics Group
Mark Cane's group at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Climate Variability and El Niño
The Australian Government's Bureau of Meteorology provides an excellent El Niño reference, emphasizing agricultural impacts in that country.

Introduction to Paleoclimatology
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climatic Data Center provides an overview of the field and explains the types of data paleoclimatologists use.

Ocean Surface Topography from Space: El Niño/La Niña Watch
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory provides views of sea surface conditions from space.

Summary of ENSO Model Forecasts
Columbia University's International Research Institute for Climate and Society presents recent results from several models used to predict ENSO events.

Weather World 2010: El Niño
The University of Illinois' Department of Atmospheric Sciences maintains an "evolving earth sciences web server," Weather World 2010, which includes an El Niño primer.


Cronin, T. M. 1999. Principles of Paleoclimatology. Columbia University Press, New York.

Davis, M. 2002. Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World. Verso, London.

Diaz, H. & V. Markgraf, Eds. 2000. El Niño and the Southern Oscillation: Multiscale Variability and Global and Regional Impacts. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Fagan, B. M. 2000. Floods, Famines, and Emperors : El Niño and the Fate of Civilizations. Basic Books, New York.


Cane, M. A., G. Eshel & R. W. Buckland. 1994. Forecasting Zimbabwean maize yield using eastern equatorial Pacific sea-surface temperature. Nature 370: 204-205. FULL TEXT (PDF, 249.77 KB)

Chiang, J. C. H., S. E. Zebiak, and M. A. Cane, 2001. On the relative roles of elevated heating and surface temperature gradients in driving anomalous surface winds over tropical oceans. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences. 58, 1371-1394. FULL TEXT (PDF, 575 KB)

Clement, A.C., R. Seager, & M.A. Cane. 1999. Orbital controls on the El Niño/Southern Oscillation and the tropical climate. Paleoceanography. Vol. 14., No. 4: 441-456.

Rosenzweig, C., W. Baethgen, A. Busalacchi, M. Cane, D. Rind, & C. J. Tucker. 2003. Using Earth Science Tools to Improve Seasonal Climate Prediction for Agriculture. Earth Observation Magazine. 12: 2.

Suplee, C. 1999. El Niño/La Niña Nature's Vicious Cycle. National Geographic Magazine. March 1999.


Mark Cane, PhD

email | web site | publications

Mark Cane is G. Unger Vetlesen Professor of Earth and Climate Sciences at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.

Jill Pope

Jill Pope is a science writer and editor who lives in Brooklyn, NY.