I knew it wouldn’t take long. The 2014/15 El Niño has yet to form and there’s already a well-commented blog post about it that spreads more speculative nonsense than one would think possible. Even the title Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths: Nose of Massive Kelvin Wave Breaks Surface in Eastern Pacific is remarkable. (H/T to Ric Werme.) The article was written by Robert Scribbler, who appears to be fiction novelist Robert Marston Fanney. It seems appropriate since that blog post is filled with fiction. Robert has a follow-up post this week El Nino Update: Monster Kelvin Wave Continues to Emerge and Intensify. It appears as though the author, who has little understanding of El Niño processes, or how the data are presented, or the history of ENSO events, is trying to suck in some blog traffic from persons with even less knowledge.
Since Robert is a storyteller, let’s tell the tale of the data.
NOTHING IN THE INSTRUMENT TEMPERATURE RECORD INDICATES ANTHROPOGENIC GLOBAL WARMING HAS HAD ANY IMPACT ON THE SEA SURFACE TEMPERATURES OF THE TROPICAL PACIFIC IN 32+ YEARS
El Niño events take place in the tropical Pacific. Figure 1 is a model-data comparison of the sea surface temperature anomalies of the tropical Pacific since the start of the Reynolds OI.v2 satellite-enhanced sea surface temperature dataset in November 1981. The models are represented by the multi-model ensemble-member mean of the climate models stored in the CMIP5 archive, which was used by the IPCC for their 5th assessment report. (Figure 1 is from the post Maybe the IPCC’s Modelers Should Try to Simulate Earth’s Oceans. See that post for further information.) According to the most current generation of climate models—the latest and greatest climate models—if manmade greenhouse gases warmed the sea surface temperatures of the tropical Pacific, they should have warmed about 0.58 deg C over the past 32+ years, based on the linear trend. But the observed sea surface temperatures of the tropical Pacific show little warming in 32+ years.
Let’s look at a few subsurface temperature-related datasets, since much of the fuel for an El Niño comes from below the surface. Because Robert used the phrases “extraordinarily powerful”, “global warming riled monster”, “hot water pool had grown into a vast abyss of heat”, and “may be hotter and stronger than even the record-shattering 1997-98 El Niño”, we’ll compare the starting point of this El Niño to the start of the 1997/98 El Niño.
Many persons have been wondering how the background for this El Niño compares to the benchmark of El Niños, the 1997/98 super El Niño, so this is a logical post to show it.
OCEAN HEAT CONTENT FOR THE TROPICAL PACIFIC IS LOWER NOW THAN IT WAS BEFORE THE 1997/98 EL NIÑO
The NODC’s ocean heat content data are available through the KNMI Climate Explorer for the depths of 0-700 meters, and that’s deep enough as the vast majority of the ENSO-related subsurface processes take place in the top 300 meters. We’ve also shown in the past that the source data for the depths of 0-700 meters and 0-2000 meters in the tropical Pacific are exactly the same (see the graph here, from the postAn Odd Mix of Reality and Misinformation from the Climate Science Community on England et al. (2014)), so there can be no speculation that maybe the heat is hiding below the depths of 700 meters in the tropical Pacific.
The NODC has not yet published its ocean heat content data for the 1st quarter of 2014. So for the ocean heat content data for the tropical Pacific, we’ll have to compare the October-December 2013 value to the October-December 1996 value. See Figure 2. The ocean heat content for the tropical Pacific (24S-24N, 120E-80W) in the last quarter of 2013 is considerably less than it was in the last quarter of 1996, leading up to the 1997/98 El Niño.
In the western tropical Pacific (24S-24N, 120E-180), which captures the West Pacific Warm Pool, the October-December 2013 value is much closer to the October-December 1996 value, but it doesn’t exceed it. See Figure 3.
And that means the warm water for this El Niño has been flooding into a much cooler eastern tropical Pacific (24S-24N, 180-80W) as shown in Figure 4. Will that have an impact? We’ll have to watch and see.
It’s tough to claim that manmade greenhouse gases are responsible for the warm water associated with this El Niño, when the ocean heat content of the tropical Pacific is lower now than it was before the 1997/98 El Niño.
But El Niño events are focused along the equator in the Pacific. So let’s look at the TAO Project H300 data, which represents the average subsurface temperature anomalies for the top 300 meters of the equatorial Pacific.
SUBSURFACE TEMPERATURES FOR THE EQUATORIAL PACIFIC ARE LOWER NOW THAN THEY WERE BEFORE THE 1997/98 EL NIÑO
The Tropical Ocean-Atmosphere (TAO) Project H300 (depth-averaged temperature for the top 300 meters) data for the equatorial Pacific are broken down into eastern and western subsets, divided at 155W. For the western equatorial Pacific (5S-5N, 120E-155W), the data are here, and for the eastern equatorial Pacific (5S-5N, 155W-85W), they are here.
Curiously, the most recent monthly data are for April 2014, so I suspect the data are listed for the previous month, or maybe the April 2014 data are for the month-to-date. Regardless, in Figures 5 and 6, I’ve highlighted the January to April 1997 data in orange, and the January to April 2014 data in light blue. The average subsurface temperatures for the January to April 1997 are presented as the red horizontal lines and the average subsurface temperatures for the January to April 2014 are presented as the dark blue horizontal lines. In both the eastern and the western equatorial Pacific, according to the TAO project buoys, the subsurface temperature anomalies for the first 4 months of 2014 are lower than they were for the first 4 months of 1997.
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So much for unprecedented nonsense.
COULD SEA SURFACE TEMPERATURE ANOMALIES IN THE EASTERN EQUATORIAL PACIFIC FOR THE 2014/15 EL NIÑO REACH 5 TO 6 DEG C?
I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a blog post written with more unfounded speculation than Robert’s Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths: Nose of Massive Kelvin Wave Breaks Surface in Eastern Pacific. So far, we’ve shown that most of his post can be dismissed as nonsense. But, after ending a discussion of the sea surface temperatures of the eastern equatorial Pacific, he closes his post with:
Should the rest of the Kelvin wave follow, temperature anomalies in this region will spike well above 4 C and possibly has high as 5-6 C. Such an event would be even stronger than the one seen in 1997-98, drive global temperatures about .05 to .2 C hotter than previous records in a single year, and set off a series of extreme weather that, when combined with the already severe conditions set in place by human-caused warming, may well be far in excess of those seen during past events.
Can an El Niño produce sea surface temperatures in excess of 5 deg C in the eastern equatorial Pacific? Yup. Would it be unprecedented? Nope. It happened during the peak of the 1997/98 El Niño, contradicting Robert’s speculation.
Animation 1 presents weekly sea surface temperature anomalies, for the eastern tropical Pacific, from the first week of September 1997 through the last week of January 1998. It captures the impact of the peak of the 1997/98 El Niño. As shown, the sea surface temperatures west of the Galapagos Islands reached anomalies in the 5.0 to 6.0 deg C range.
The maps are available through the NOAA NOMADS website. Figure 7 is the map for one of the peak weeks, November 26, 1997.
According to the TAO Project’s U-component (east-west) wind data, which are based on measurements from the weather stations atop the TAO buoys, in 1997 the trade winds in the western tropical Pacific (normally easterlies) had changed to westerlies a number of times and at varying strengths throughout the year. See Figure 8. (The TAO Project U- & V-component wind data are also available through the KNMI Climate Explorer.)
This caused the equatorial countercurrent to engorge, pumping more warm water from the west Pacific Warm Pool into the eastern equatorial Pacific. (See the post Equatorial Currents Before, During, and After The 1997/98 El Nino.) Basically, warm water that is normally in the western equatorial Pacific had been transported as far east as the Galapagos. Figure 9 uses the Reynolds OI.v2 sea surface temperature climatology for the week of November 26, 1997 as a reference. The anomalies in Figure 7 are based on the climatology shown in Figure 9.
Only time will tell how strong the westerlies will become during this El Niño and how long they will persist…and how much warm surface water they will push to the east.
Over the next few months, I suspect they’ll be news articles that include interviews of with oceanographers who specialize in El Niño events. Those oceanographers will be mentioning that it’s a little early to tell how strong the El Niño will become, because much will depend on what the trade winds decide to do. The question isn’t whether they’ll reverse in the western equatorial Pacific. It’s how strong the westerlies will become and how long they will last.
ONE LAST NOTE
In Figure 1, we showed that the sea surface temperatures of the tropical Pacific haven’t warmed in 32+ years, while the climate models showed they should have warmed considerably. Just in case you’re new here, see Figure 10. The sea surface temperatures of the entire East Pacific Ocean, from pole to pole (90S-90, 180-80W) also show little to no warming for the entire duration of the satellite-enhanced Reynolds OI.v2 sea surface temperature data. And once again, the climate models show that, if the surface of the East Pacific Ocean were warmed by manmade greenhouse gases, the sea surface temperatures there would have warmed about 0.48 deg C. Now, the East Pacific is not a small subset. Based on the coordinates used, the East Pacific data covers about 33% of the surface of the global oceans. Again please see the post Maybe the IPCC’s Modelers Should Try to Simulate Earth’s Oceans.
You really should spend a few moments to read Robert’s posts and his comments on those threads. I have never read so much unfounded conjecture in any post about El Niño events. Never. For that, we’ll have to call on Dr. Roger Pielke Jr.’s handy buttonfor RobertScribbler’s two posts about El Niño. I suspect there will be more, since he appears to really enjoy writing about the upcoming El Niño, a subject he clearly does not comprehend.
Pielke Jr. BS Button
The very sad part: Based on the comments on the threads of Robert’s posts, there are people who believe his nonsense.
The first post in this series is The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 1 – The Initial Processes of the El Niño.
Portions of this post should help to confirm the processes of El Niño discussed in An Illustrated Introduction to the Basic Processes that Drive El Niño and La Niña Events.
I went into much more detail to explain ENSO processes and the aftereffects of El Niño and La Niña events in my ebook Who Turned on the Heat? I’ve lowered the price of Who Turned on the Heat? from U.S.$8.00 to U.S.$5.00…with hope of increasing sales a little bit. A free preview in pdf format is here. The preview includes the Table of Contents, the Introduction, the first half of section 1 (which was provided complete in this post), a discussion of the cover, and the Closing. Take a run through the Table of Contents. It is a very-detailed and well-illustrated book—using data from the real world, not models of a virtual world. Who Turned on the Heat? is only available in pdf format…and will only be available in that format. Click here to purchase a copy. Thanks.