What's New Archive
Satellite sea surface temperature departure for October 2015 over the Pacific. Orange-red colors indicate above normal temperatures, indicative of an El Niño condition. The 2015-16 El Niño was the first extreme El Niño of the 21st century and among the three strongest El Niños on record. Credit: NOAA National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS)
The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in the Pacific Ocean has major worldwide social and economic consequences through its global scale effects on atmospheric and oceanic circulation, marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and other natural systems. It is the most dramatic year-to-year variation of the Earth’s climate system, affecting agriculture, public health, freshwater availability, power generation, and economic activity in the United States and around the globe. Ongoing climate change is projected to significantly alter ENSO’s dynamics and impacts.
The future of ENSO is the subject of a new book published by the American Geophysical Union. With 21 chapters written by 98 authors from 58 research institutions in 16 countries, the volume covers the latest theories, models, and observations, and explores the challenges of forecasting El Niño and La Niña. The book, “El Niño Southern Oscillation in a Changing Climate” was published online on November 2.
“This is the first comprehensive examination of how ENSO, its dynamics and its impacts may change under the influence of rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere,” said Michael McPhaden, senior scientist with PMEL's Global Tropical Moored Buoy Array, and co-editor of the new volume. Two other co-editors are from Australia: Agus Santoso, a scientist with the University of New South Wales, and Wenju Cai, a researcher with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, also known as CSIRO.
The new book, three years in the making, tracks the historical development of ideas about ENSO, explores underlying physical processes and reveals the latest science on how ENSO responds to external factors such as climate phenomena outside the tropical Pacific, volcanic eruptions, and anthropogenic greenhouse gas forcing.
How are ENSO impacts likely to evolve in the coming decades?
“Extreme El Niño and La Niña events may increase in frequency from about one every 20 years to one every 10 years by the end of the 21st century under aggressive greenhouse gas emission scenarios,” McPhaden said. “The strongest events may also become even stronger than they are today.”
In a warming climate, rainfall extremes are projected to shift eastward along the equator in the Pacific Ocean during El Niño events and westward during extreme La Niña events. Less clear is the potential evolution of rainfall patterns in the mid-latitudes, but extremes may be more pronounced if strong El Niños and La Niñas increase in frequency and amplitude, he said.
Some ENSO impacts are already being amplified, such as the extensive coral bleaching and increases in tropical Pacific storm activity observed during the 2015-16 El Niño. ENSO is expected to impact tropical cyclone genesis in the future as it does today in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, but precisely how is still an open question.
To learn more about El Nino and La Nina and the research PMEL does, visit https://www.pmel.noaa.gov/elnino/pmel-research-activities
41 scientists from PMEL, including scientists from NOAA's cooperative institutes at the University of Washington's Joint Institute for the Study of the Ocean and Atmosphere (JISAO) and Oregon State University's Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies (CIMRS), the National Research Council, graduate and undergraduate students are heading to the Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego to share their current research. Talks and posters cover a range of topics include saildrone research, ocean observing systems, marine heatwaves, Arctic, acoustics, Deep Argo, genetics and genomics, El Nino, hydrothermal vents, methane, nutrients, technologies, ocean carbon and data management.
The 2020 Oceans Science Meeting is the flagship conference for the ocean sciences and the larger ocean-connected community. As we approach the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, beginning in 2021, it is increasingly important to gather as a scientific community to raise awareness of the truly global dimension of the ocean, address environmental challenges, and set forth on a path towards a resilient planet. The meeting is co-sponsored by the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO), and The Oceanography Society (TOS).
PMEL research groups that will be present at the conference are: Acoustics, Arctic including Innovative Technology for Arctic Exploration, Climate-Weather Interface, Earth-Ocean Interactions, EcoFOCI, Engineering, Genetics and Genomics, Global Tropical Moored Buoy Array, , Large Scale Ocean Physics, Ocean Carbon, Ocean Climate Stations, Pacific Western Boundary Currents, and Science Data Integration Group.
This week, four saildrones departed from Hawaii on the second mission to the equator in an effort to improve the Tropical Pacific Observing System (TPOS). NOAA forecasts a 50-55% chance of a weak El Niño developing during September - November 2018, increasing to 65-70% chance during winter 2018-19. The second saildrone mission will thus capture ocean and atmospheric data during this developing El Niño, including changes in ocean temperature, winds, currents and ocean carbon dioxide concentrations.
During the first mission in late 2017-early 2018, La Niña conditions were present. Strong currents and low winds on the equator made navigation challenging. This year, two of the four saildrones have been outfitted with larger, more efficient sails, making them faster and more capable in low wind-strong current environments.
This mission is part of a series of saildrone missions to the tropical Pacific, focusing on how this new technology could best be used within the TPOS to improve longterm weather forecasts.
PMEL began a partnership with Saildrone, Inc. in 2014 to develop the unmanned surface vehicles for collecting high quality oceanic and atmospheric observations. PMEL's Ocean Climate Stations group has been working together with PMEL engineers and Saildrone, Inc. since 2016 to install sensors on the drones with equivalent or better quality than those currently used on TAO moorings for air-sea flux measurements.
Follow the TPOS Saildrones’ progress at: https://www.pmel.noaa.gov/ocs/ocs-saildrone-mission-blog-tpos-mission-2
More than 50 PMEL scientists, including scientists from NOAA, University of Washington's Joint Institute for the Study of the Ocean and Atmosphere (JISAO), Oregon State University's Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies (CIMRS) and the National Research Council, will present a talk or share a poster on their research at the 2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Portland, Oregon February 12-16, 2018. PMEL research groups that will be present at the conference are: Acoustics, Arctic, Earth-Ocean Interactions, EcoFOCI, Engineering, Global Tropical Moored Buoy Array, Innovative Technology for Arctic Exploration, Large Scale Ocean Physics, Ocean Carbon, Ocean Climate Stations, Pacific Western Boundary Currents, Science Data Integration Group, Thermal Modeling and Analysis Project
28 talks will present research on ocean carbon, ocean acidification, ocean observing systems, Arctic research including the Distributed Biological Observatory and Arctic Marine Pulses (AMP), ENSO, MJO, hydrothermal vents, Saildrone research, air-sea interactions, SOCCOM, and ocean mixing. 26 posters will be up during the poster sessions and highlight research in the Arctic, hydrothermal vents, acoustics, methane bubbles and hydrates, Saildrone, Oculus Coastal Glider, ocean carbon, deep ocean temperatures, glider research in the Solomon Sea, and ocean acidification and hyopxia.
PMEL staff will also be chairing sessions and workshops on:
- El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Diversity, Predictability, and Impacts
- Western Pacific and Indonesian Sea Circulation and Its Environmental and Climatic Impacts
- New Platform and Sensor Technologies: Advancing Research, Readiness, and Transitioning for Sustained Ocean Observing of Essential Ocean Variables
- Methane from the Subsurface Through the Bio-, Hydro-, and Atmosphere: Advances in Natural Hydrate Systems and Methane Seeps in Marine Ecosystems
- Cascadia Margin methane seep and hydrates to share results and coordinate future work
The 2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting is co-sponsored by the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO), and The Oceanography Society (TOS). The meeting is an important venue for scientific exchange across broad marine science disciplines. Sessions will include all aspects of oceanography, especially multidisciplinary topics, as well as presentations that reflect new and emerging research on the global ocean and society, including science education, outreach, and public policy
In a new study published in Science, NOAA and NASA scientists used space-borne observations of carbon dioxide (CO2) from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 satellite, or OCO-2, to characterize the tropical atmospheric CO2 response to the strong El Niño event of 2015-2016. The El Niño provided NASA and NOAA an unprecedented opportunity to test the effectiveness of this new observation tool. OCO-2 is NASA’s first satellite designed to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide with the precision, resolution, and coverage necessary to quantify regional carbon sources and sinks.
Observations of carbon dioxide concentrations over the tropical Pacific from the satellite were validated by data from NOAA’s Tropical Pacific Observing System of buoys, which directly measure carbon dioxide concentrations at the surface of the ocean. Both observing systems showed that in the early months of the El Niño, during the spring of 2015, outgassing of carbon dioxide over the tropical Pacific Ocean significantly declined by 26 to 54 percent.“This response is consistent with what we expect from a theoretical understanding, and comparable to what the NOAA data suggests,” said Richard Feely, senior scientist at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, who is a co-author on the paper.
This research is part of a series of studies to better understand the growth of carbon dioxide concentrations in the global atmosphere using the new NASA satellite. The studies show how various regions contribute to those emissions or serve as sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide emissions at different times.
On September 1, two saildrones launched from the Saildrone Inc. dock in Alameda, CA to begin their six-month, 8,000-nautical-mile, round-trip mission to the equator to improve the Tropical Pacific Observing System (TPOS). These saildrones are a component of a broader effort to rethink the Tropical Pacific Observing System (TPOS) that supports sub-seasonal to seasonal forecasting for the US. TPOS provides real-time data used by the US and partner nations to forecast weather and climate, including El Nino. The mission will be testing if this new, enhanced tool can collect a variety of measurements at a quality that matches research ships and proven mooring technology, Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) array. If this is the case, they may become a powerful tool to provide key observations for weather forecasts.
The saildrones are headed to the California Current Ecosystem (CCE) for a short test before taking part in a larger field study with NASA at the NASA SPURS study site in the eastern Tropical Pacific. The saildrones will perform an intercomparison with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s (WHOI) buoy and collect observational date in the study site. The saildrones will also do a calibration exercise with a research ship to ensure the accuracy and quality of the measurements that are being collected. This is particularly important to scientists when testing new sensors and technologies. Then the saildrones will travel south to the equator to do intercomparisons with the TAO moorings before heading back to Alameda, CA.
If the mission is successful, the improved data collection can help improve forecasts for El Nino’s and other weather phenomena that develop in the tropical Pacific and strongly impact North American weather patterns.
Read more about the Saildrone missions in the Arctic and the Tropical Pacific here.
The image is of ocean surface temperature in 2016 compared to the 1981-2010 average. Despite the weakening 2015/16 El Niño event in 2016, the global average sea surface temperature in 2016 beat 2015 as the warmest year on record by a narrow margin. Image credit: NOAA Climate.gov map, adapted from Figure 3.1a in State of the Climate in 2016.
On August 10th, the State of the Climate in 2016 was published in a special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. This 27th annual report is based on contributions from more than 500 scientists representing over 60 countries around the world. It is the most comprehensive annual summary of Earth’s climate and provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events and other data collected from locations on land, water, ice, and in space.
PMEL, including JISAO and JIMAR, scientists contributed to sections on the global ocean carbon cycle, ocean heat content and arctic air temperature.
The new report confirmed that 2016 surpassed 2015 as the warmest year in 137 years of recordkeeping. Several climate indicators also set new records in 2016, including greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level, and sea surface temperature. The Arctic also continued to warm with average Arctic land surface temperature 3.6°F (2.0°C) above the 1981-2010 average and sea ice extent and thickness remained low.
Dr. Gregory C. Johnson, PMEL oceanographer and editor for the ocean chapter, sums up in Haiku form:
Large El Niño wanes,
east Pacific tropics cool,
seas shed heat, slow rise
Over the next four months, NOAA scientists will launch unmanned ocean vehicles, called Saildrones, from the Arctic to the tropical Pacific Ocean to help better understand how changes in the ocean are affecting weather, climate, fisheries and marine mammals. The wind and solar-powered research vehicles that resemble a sailboat will travel thousands of miles across the ocean, reaching some areas never before surveyed with such specialized technology.
Earlier this week, PMEL scientists and Saildrone, Inc. sent off three saildrones from Dutch Harbor, Alaska. For the first time, two saildrones will sail north through the Bering Strait into the Arctic Ocean to study how the Arctic Ocean is absorbing carbon dioxide. A third unmanned vehicle will survey more than 3,100 nautical miles in the Bering Sea for walleye pollock, Northern fur seals that prey on them and the elusive North Pacific right whale. This work will build on research conducted during 2016, including a study of fur seal feeding rates. NOAA Fisheries Alaska Fisheries Science Center scientists will also attach video cameras to fur seals to record feeding and verify the species and sizes of fish that fur seals are eating.
In September, scientists will launch two more unmanned systems from Alameda, Calif., on a six-month, 8,000-nautical-mile, round-trip mission to the equator to improve the Tropical Pacific Observing System (TPOS). TPOS provides real-time data used by the U.S. and partner nations to forecast weather and climate, including El Nino. The unmanned sailing vehicles will take part in a larger field study with NASA, and visit mooring sites along the array of observing buoys.
Read the release on NOAA Research here and follow along with the Innovative Technology for Arctic Exploration's Blog for the Bering and Chukchi Seas missions.
Last week, PMEL scientists attended the American Meteorological Society (AMS)’s Annual Meeting in Seattle, WA and the Alaska Marine Science Symposium (AMSS) in Anchorage, AK. Presentations covered research in the Bering Sea, data management and access, El Nino, sea ice, the Earth's energy imbalance, innovative technologies, and recent warming in the Pacific and others.
At AMSS, the Ecosystems and Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations (EcoFOCI) group had multiple presentations and posters on the Bering Sea including topics on the recent marine heat wave in Alaska, linking annual oceanographic processes to contiguous ecological domains in the pacific Arctic, fish distributions, ecology, Saildrone and oceanography.
A wider range of topics were covered at AMS and included invited talks from Nick Bond, Chidong Zhang and Kevin Wood. Dr. Zhang spoke about the Dynamics of the Madden-Julian Oscillation; Kevin Wood presented the Old Weather Project using historical U.S. ship logbooks to collect and analyze historical climate data; and Nick Bond discussed the recent warming in the NE Pacific. The annual meeting is the world’s largest yearly gathering for the weather, water, and climate community and brings together atmospheric scientists, professionals, students, educators and research’s from around the world. AMS is the nation’s premier scientific and professional organization promoting and disseminating information about the atmospheric, oceanic, hydrologic sciences.
Learn more about all our different research themes and groups here.
PMEL scientists, including scientists from the University of Washington's Joint Institute for the Study of the Ocean and Atmosphere (JISAO) and Oregon State University's Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies (CIMRS) are attending the American Geophysical Union (AGU)’s Annual Meeting in San Francisco this week, December 12-16. AGU's Falling Meeting is the largest Earth and space science meeting in the world bringing together the Earth and space science community for discussions of emerging trends and the latest research. Poster and talk topics include data integration, El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Indian Ocean temperature trends, hydrothermal plumes and vents, carbon dioxide in the tropics and Gulf of Alaska, aerosol research, and heat impacts on marine ecosystems and fisheries, tsunamis, and acoustic research.
The 2016 Arctic Report Card will be released Tuesday morning in conjunction with a press conference led by NOAA’s Jeremy Mathis. The 2016 Arctic Report Card brings together the work of 61 scientists from 11 nations to provide the latest information on multiple measures of Arctic environmental change, including air and sea surface temperature, sea ice, snow cover, vegetation, wildlife, and plankton abundance. Read the full report and highlights here as well as the press release. Watch the recorded press conference here.
Researchers will also present during a press conference Thursday morning some of the first scientific results from the 2015 Axial Seamount eruption including discoveries of previously unknown structures and new glimpses into the volcano’s internal plumbing. These new insights into the world’s most active and well-studied underwater volcano may help scientists better understand all volcanoes and the hazards they pose. Read the press release here. Watched the recorded press conference here.
Dr. Bob Embley from the Earth-Ocean Interactions group will be honored during the Awards Ceremony as part of the 2016 class of Fellows for his pioneering contributions to the understanding of deep-sea volcanism by fostering interdisciplinary investigations with advanced technologies.