What's New Archive
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.
Prior to the industrial revolution CO2 was absorbed from the air by land plants, exported via rivers to the ocean and released back into the air creating a balanced cycle on time scales of centuries to millennia. Today, humans are altering this balance by releasing fossil carbon (e.g. coal, oil, natural gas). About one third of fossil CO2 is absorbed by the ocean, changing the ocean from a net source to the air, to a net sink.
Recent results published by the Global Carbon Project (GCP) earlier this month in Earth System Science Data show that global carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels did not grow in 2015 and are projected to rise only slightly in 2016, marking three years of almost no growth. The plateau in global emissions is largely the result of reduced coal use in China. However, emissions grew by 5.2% in 2015 in India, the world’s second most populous developing country, and other developing countries.
In spite of a nearly flat growth in emissions, the growth in atmospheric CO2 concentration was a record-high in 2015 and could be a record high again in 2016 due to weak carbon sinks. Carbon sinks refers to a reservoir that accumulates and stores carbon. Natural sinks are in the oceans and land plants, which typically absorb more carbon dioxide than they release. This past year, CO2 was not as readily absorbed by trees due to warm and dry conditions over tropical land caused by the recent 2015-16 El Niño event.
Atmospheric CO2 levels have exceeded 400 parts per million (ppm) and will continue to rise until emissions are reduced to near zero. This is the highest level for atmospheric CO2 in at least the last 800,000 years (See GCP Infographics for more details here).
PMEL scientists, Simone Alin, Adrienne Sutton, and Kevin O’Brien provided valuable data about CO2 in the oceans for this report. The Global Carbon Project was formed to develop a complete picture of the global carbon cycle, including the interactions and feedback between the natural and human systems.
The State of the Climate in 2015 report, published August 2016 in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events and other environmental data. The report was compiled by 460 scientists, including several PMEL, JISAO and JIMAR scientists. These scientists contributed to sections on the global ocean carbon cycle, ocean heat content and arctic air temperature.
This year’s report has an emphasis on ecosystems, specifically how a changing climate impacts living systems. The report confirmed that 2015 beat 2014 as the warmest year (about 1.0°C warmer) since preindustrial times and that the Mauna Loa observatory recorded its first annual mean carbon dioxide concentration greater than 400 ppm. This year’s exceptional warmth was fueled in part by a nearly year-round mature El Niño event.
Greg Johnson, who co-edited the Global Ocean’s chapter, wrote a haiku summarizing Earth’s climate in 2015:
El Niño waxes,
warm waters shoal, flow eastward,
Earth’s fever rises.
PMEL climate scientists describe in a recently published paper the relationship between the 2014-15 failed El Niño and this year’s monster El Niño as well as any similarities between the past strong El Niño’s. They examined changes in sea surface and sub-surface temperatures, winds, and volumes of warm water in the Pacific Ocean from 2014 to 2016.
What they found was that the highly anticipated 2014-15 El Niño event failed due to unusually strong easterly winds in the summer of 2014 which prevented the warm surface water from shifting eastward as seen in a typical El Niño events and left a reservoir of warm water below the ocean’s surface. This reservoir of warm water combined with strong westerly winds that appeared and continued throughout the spring and summer of 2015 led to the monster El Niño. They found a similar series of events that led to the 1991-92 El Nino event.
A newly updated FAQ answers questions about La Niña, including explanations, detection, impacts and relationship to severe weather events such as hurricanes and tornados.
La Niña is defined as cooler than normal sea-surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific ocean that impact global weather patterns. La Niña conditions recur every few years and can persist for as long as two years.
El Niño and La Niña are extreme phases of a naturally occurring climate cycle referred to as El Niño/Southern Oscillation, and both terms refer to large-scale changes in sea-surface temperature across the eastern tropical Pacific.
Both La Niña and El Niño tend to peak during the Northern Hemisphere winter.
The new El Niño YouTube playlist is a resource including explanations of the predictability of El Niño, the 2014 El Niño that never materialized and the 2015-2016 El Niño that challenges the 1997-1998 El Niño for the largest on record
Learn how and why PMEL developed the El Niño observing system in the tropical Pacific, which includes a narrated animation of the evolution of the 1997-1998 El Niño, the largest on record at the time. You can also view a YouTube animation of the evolution of the 2009-2010 El Niño, which shows the strongest "Central Pacific" El Niño in the past 3 decades, with maximum warming in the central equatorial Pacific (vs the classic El Niño, like 1997-1998, with maximum warming in the eastern equatorial Pacific).
El Niño animations show changes in sea surface temperature in the tropical Pacific Ocean. As you view them, you will see the warm water spreading from the western Pacific to the eastern Pacific as the El Niño evolves. The bottom panel in the animations, labeled anomalies, shows temperature deviations from normal (how much the sea surface temperature is different from the long term average). The red color in the anomalies plot indicates that the temperature of the water is much warmer than is normal for that month, whereas blue color indicates that the water is much cooler than is normal. Animations of physical processes allow scientists to better understand the El Niño cycle.
PMEL’s Argo float group relies upon and is very grateful for assistance from scientists and crew in deploying PMEL Argo floats on a variety of ships in oceans around the globe. PMEL Argo recently sent six floats to the R/V Falkor of the Schimdt Ocean Institute for deployment on a science cruise studying oxygen minimum zones across in the tropical Pacific. Float deployments during this cruise helped to fill a coverage gap in the Argo array that had opened up in this crucial region during a significant El Niño. As an unexpected bonus, artist-at-sea Michelle Schwengel-Regala was yarn-bombing on the Falkor during this cruise. Here are pictures of two PMEL Argo floats on the Falkor nestled in her dazzling knitted float-cozies! The yarn was removed and repurposed prior to deployment of the floats, all of which are now reporting vital ocean temperature and salinity data back from the tropical Pacific, monitoring the evolving El Niño.
Research and commentary articles just published online in Nature Climate Change by NOAA/PMEL Senior Scientist Michael McPhaden and collaborators highlights the need for continued study into El Niño causes and effects.
McPhaden’s commentary explores possible reasons why the much anticipated El Niño of 2014 failed to materialize, while an unforeseen strong El Niño is developing now. In the same issue, a review paper by McPhaden and colleagues explores the connection between global warming and El Niño/La Niña events. Model results indicate that extreme El Niño and La Niña events will increase in number and intensity as the climate continues to warm.