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ENSO as an Integrating Concept in Earth Science

M. J. McPhaden,1 S. E. Zebiak,2 and M. H. Glantz3

1NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Seattle, Washington
2International Research Institute for Climate and Society, Palisades, NY
3National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO

Science, 314(5806), 1740–1745, 2006.
Copyright ©2006 by The American Association for the Advancement of Science. Further electronic distribution is not allowed.


The El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle of alternating warm El Niño and cold La Niña events is the dominant year-to-year climate signal on Earth. ENSO originates in the tropical Pacific through interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere, but its environmental and socioeconomic impacts are felt worldwide. Spurred on by the powerful 1997–1998 El Niño, efforts to understand the causes and consequences of ENSO have greatly expanded in the past few years. These efforts reveal the breadth of ENSO's influence on the Earth system and the potential to exploit its predictability for societal benefit. However, many intertwined issues regarding ENSO dynamics, impacts, forecasting, and applications remain unresolved. Research to address these issues will not only lead to progress across a broad range of scientific disciplines but also provide an opportunity to educate the public and policy makers about the importance of climate variability and change in the modern world.

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