Potential For El Nino Spikes As Record Pacific Ocean Heat Content Continues to Emerge

Monster Kelvin Wave April 13

(Very powerful Kelvin Wave still moving eastward even as it begins to sink in off the coast of South America. Image source: NOAA.)

Likelihood for a significant El Nino later this year continued to increase as the most powerful Kelvin Wave on record continued its progress into the Eastern Equatorial Pacific. According NOAA’s recent April 13 assessment, the massive slug of anomalously hot Pacific subsurface waters continued to surge eastward, to deepen the 20 C isotherm and to spread out on or just below the surface.

NOAA’s most recent CPC report finds, in a bald refutation to assertions by climate change deniers, that:

A significant downwelling oceanic Kelvin wave that was initiated in January greatly increased the oceanic heat content to the largest March value in the historical record back to 1979 and produced large positive subsurface temperature anomalies across the central and eastern Pacific.

Extraordinary temperature departures in the range of 4-6 C above average stretched from a zone from 180 West Longitude to 80 West Longitude and ranged in depth from 30 to 70 meters. This very large zone of above average heat shattered global records even as it slid into position to begin re-delivering that excess to the atmosphere.

Perhaps more importantly, the nose of this wave of far warmer than normal water had begun to sag, pushing the 20 C isotherm deeper into the Eastern Pacific even as cooler water from the depths began to punch into the tail of the record hot Kelvin Wave, raising the 20 C isotherm in the Western Pacific. This downwelling force of a monster Kelvin wave appears to just now be initiating the start to a global weather-altering El Nino.

Hot Water Downwelling, Weakening Trade Winds

In the East, from 12 February to 13 April, the 20 C isotherm had plunged from about 25 meters below to around 100 meters of depth. During the same period, the isotherm from about 150 East Longitude to 170 West had risen from about 210 meters to 170 meters. At the subsurface, a continued rising of the isotherm in the West and its continued fall in the East would complete the transfer of warm waters across the Pacific and open the flood gates to the start of what could be an extraordinarily strong El Nino event as what is now a record Pacific Ocean heat content starts bleeding back to the atmosphere.

Pacific Isotherm Tilts East

(20 C isotherm continues to rise in the Western Pacific [left side of graph] even as it rises in the East [right side]. Image source: NOAA.)

On the surface, trade wind weakening and reversals continued with a significant, though milder than those seen in January and February, backflow emerging in early April east of the Solomon Islands and coinciding with rather weak trade winds across the Equatorial Pacific. Such conditions continued to provide surface impetus to transfer warm waters  across the Pacific even as record subsurface heat continued its transition eastward.

Chances for El Nino Rise

Accordingly, predictive forecasts both by NOAA and Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology are showing increasing potentials that El Nino will emerge. NOAA’s forecast now indicates that the chance for El Nino has jumped to over 50% by this summer and to 66% by the end of the year. Australia’s forecast is now showing a greater than 70% chance of El Nino over the same period.

In addition, El Nino type influences are already beginning to appear in world weather systems. A recent report by Dr. Simon Wang found that precursor El Nino conditions combined with effects related to climate change such as Arctic sea ice loss to spur and enhance epic drought conditions in California. Southeast Asia is already experiencing heat and dryness that is typically associated with a developing El Nino. Northern Brazil is also seeing increasing levels of heat and drought. To the North, Siberia is experiencing an extraordinary April onset to fire season while the northeastern US is somewhat cooler than average due to the persistent and anomalous strength of a dipole of warm temperature extremes in western North America and cool temperature extremes in eastern North America.

Many of these impacts, though expected in a normal El Nino year appear to be enhanced by effects related to human caused climate change such as sea ice loss and an amplification of the hydrological cycle increasing the frequency of extreme rainfall, drought and fire events (as in the California drought and the southeast Asian and Siberian fires).

NOAA El Nino Potentials

(El Nino model runs by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center show 66% potential for El Nino Development by November, December and January of 2014-2015. Image source: CPC/IRI.)

During a typical strong El Nino year, global weather disruptions can cause severe damage resulting in reductions to world GDP by as much as 5%. But with the added and enhanced severe weather effects due to climate change interacting with El Nino, overall impacts could be far more destructive. In addition, a release of what is currently record Pacific Ocean heat content into the atmosphere will likely set off new high temperature extremes, further pushing the global climate system toward the very dangerous 2 C warming threshold.




Climate scientists find link between sea ice loss, emerging El Nino, and record California Drought

Small Army of Firefighters Battles Siberian Blazes in April

Monster El Nino Rising From the Depths

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  1. james cole

     /  April 17, 2014

    My local Minnesota Public Radio has long been very late to the Global Warming issue. The resident meteorologist has for years downplayed the issue. In the last couple years I guess the evidence has finally become too much and he even has a weekly 15 minute program called the “Climate Cast”. In this weekly interview he openly discusses the latest climate change evidence and the weather effects. I believe the change was public pressure making itself felt, as public contributions are a major revenue source.
    Anyways, today the El Nino issue was front and center. He said that a Super El Nino was possible, and noted that the models coming out of Australia were the ones most favoring this big El Nino.
    Robert mentioned in a past post that IF this El Nino does not develop, then all that heat in the Pacific waters will remain there for the time being. Lets say that this is the case. What does that heat imply if it does not get released to the atmosphere in an El Nino but remains where it is? Will simply more heat be added to it and the heat go even deeper? Is this just setting up an ultra Super El Nino in a few years. Is there a limit to how much heat can be absorbed in the Western Pacific waters, or would the area of abnormal heat just expand and expand? I guess my thought is, can an El Nino now be a good thing to release this heat, would a longer time before the next one make it all worse, setting of even more extreme weather events.

    • We have record ocean heat content now, so ‘good’ is a relative thing.

      Yes, by initiating a strong El Nino now, you probably prevent an even worse one in the future.

      In the end, it’s a wash as the real driver of the overall problem — human caused warming is still growing stronger and what we are likely to continue seeing is worst on record weather events occurring with increasing frequency until we somehow change the underlying drivers.

      So as the atmospheric forcing to the oceans increases, the heat dumps back to the atmosphere in the interplay will be quite intense and are likely to play a part in amplifying extreme weather.

  2. Phil

     /  April 17, 2014

    I have seen mentioned in some other forums, such as arctic sea ice forum, the lack of WWB’s this month has started to pull the negative values of SOI back towards values bordering on neutral conditions. There was an expectation that a cyclone that was suppose to develop in the western pacific around the same time as Ita would provide the needed WWB forcing but that storm did not appear to develop as strongly as needed.

    There is also some hope that things might pick up again towards the end of the month possibly linked to the MJO and the atmospheric waves mentioned by Dr Ventrice to provide the needed WWB’s boost to help lock in the progress towards a strong El Nino.

    • Eastern Pacific trade winds are essentially dead today. The winds are flowing at right angles to the equator there. The westerlies continue east of the Solomons… And we are seeing heat spikes directly over the equator in a large swath.

    • On the sea ice front, we have a 950 mb low which, as of yesterday, blew through a massive chunk of newly formed Barents sea ice. It’s almost as if that section of the Arctic had a glass jaw and was just waiting for a warm storm to take it out.

    • 7 kph WWBs at mid ocean right now. WWBs continue east of the Solomons. Trade winds very weak in Eastern Pacific.

  3. Phil

     /  April 17, 2014

    Another issue is when is the forcing large enough to be self-reinforcing. For example, is the current size of the Kelvin Wave and temperatures of the water within it large enough to produce the required ocean and atmospheric forcing needed to produce a strong El Nino as more of it begins to emerge at the surface. This would mirror how very strong cyclones can essentially override or modify other weather patterns to essentially drive their own destinies.

    I have also seen some further comments that things also seem to be looking more promising for more WWB’s next week as well.

    Other interesting questions are whether very strong El Nino’s are possible during cold phase of the PDO (yes – 1972-73 El Nino) and also whether the current PDO is transitioning from cold to warm phase or whether the current positive PDO readings since the start of the year are just temporary departures from the cooler phase trend that been broadly in operation over the last fifteen years.

    This latter issue is also linked into the length of the PDO cycle and whether that might change with climate change. I think the amplitude of the monthly PDO values over the last couple of years has been diminishing while still being negative but uncertainty exists about whether we are only at the half point of the cycle (assuming a period of 30 years) or whether we can effectively transition to the warm phase. If the former, than the last few positive values are likely to be temporary with some transitioning back to negative values likely. In the latter, it would be possible that the positive values might represent a more sustained shift. I have no answers to this question however.

    For completeness, I have listed a few other web addresses for some of the blogs I find interesting or informative about ENSO:

    Note that the above blog would have comments from people who are firmly in the climate change supporters and climate change denier camps – not too hard to tell which ones are which.

    The second blog is:,730.600.html

    • The subsea pattern is quite strong and the window for more powerful reversals at the surface remains open. In any case, we have mild westerly winds east of the Solomon Islands now. Not as strong as earlier. But they’re there.

      For those lurking:

      MJO = Madden Julian Oscillation
      WWB = Westerly Wind Bursts

    • I’ve wondered a bit about PDO flip as well. The 30 year cycle isn’t exactly strict. I’m addition, numerous models show an increased El Niño trend with warming. That would tend to force PDO flips sooner, if true.

      • Phil

         /  April 18, 2014

        Apart from the direct measurement, I am not really sure what other qualitative measures can be used to indicate support for cool or warm phase of the PDO. In the weatherzone blog I referenced above, the most recent post by Mike Hauber (yesterday) mentioned ocean heat content at 400 meters which still seemed to show a cool phase associated with cool phase of PDO.

        I wonder if there are any other ‘qualitative indicators’ that can used to assess the phase and changes in the phase of the PDO.

        As an aside, on arctic sea ice blog, interesting things seem to be happening with arctic sea ice at the moment – apparently large drops in extent and area and very interesting weather conditions possible over the next week that might reinforce these recent declines – something about a Greenland Ridge developing and it looks like some storms as well.

    • The ice trends are very concerning. They appear to be strong and self reinforcing. We have high amplitude Jet Stream patterns delivering a substantial amount of heat over most of the edge zones and that snow line retreat in Siberia is very rapid.

      RE PDO, I think the trend will become more clear as El Niño emerges.

      For those lurking:

      PDO = Pacific Decadal Oscillation

  4. uknowispeaksense

     /  April 18, 2014

    Reblogged this on uknowispeaksense.

  5. Wildfires really are on the rise in West, Utah researchers say

    Research » U. geographers link climate change to more, bigger fires in the West.

    Over the past three decades, wildfires in the western United States have been getting larger and more frequent, according to new research from the University of Utah.

    This trend, which U. geographers documented with satellite images, could reflect the increasing temperatures and drought severity associated with climate change, according to lead author Philip Dennison.


  6. Into the Maelstrom -Jennifer Francis has made waves linking the melting Arctic to extreme weather around the world. But a storm of criticism has forced the climate scientist to defend her hypothesis.

    • I thinking that the Francis hypothesis is mostly correct as it stands. It might need some alteration to show how the rossby wave pattern and related jet stream flows actually become very strong once the new east west temperature differentials set up. But, as of now, the theory is both valid and predictive.

      One not of caution for modelers — watch out for increasing Greenland ice melt! It has pattern change written all over it.

  7. “We found organic soil that has been frozen to the bottom of the ice sheet for 2.7 million years,” said University of Vermont geologist Paul Bierman—providing strong evidence that the Greenland Ice Sheet has persisted much longer than previously known, enduring through many past periods of global warming.

    He led an international team of scientists that reported their discovery on April 17 in the journal Science. …………………… What is clear, however, from an abundance of worldwide indicators, is that global temperatures are on a path to be “far warmer than the warmest interglacials in millions of years,” said Bierman. “There is a 2.7-million-year-old soil sitting under Greenland. The ice sheet on top of it has not disappeared in the time in which humans became a species. But if we keep on our current trajectory, the ice sheet will not survive. And once you clear it off, it’s really hard to put it back on.”

    • Mark from New England

       /  April 18, 2014

      2.7 million years ago our ancestors were the Australopithicenes, confined to Africa. They were basically advanced chimps that walked upright, the several species of which had a good run of several million years. Our genus ‘Homo’ may have just been emerging about then. Also consider that the Andromeda Galaxy is about this distance in light years from us. So when you look up and see that galaxy (visible in binoculars), the light you’ll see left there when Greenland was green and as this article implies, ice-free. Sobering.

    • We have enough ghg forcing in the atmosphere now to take the entire Greenland ice sheet down. CO2 now at 3 million years +, CO2e at 10-15 million years.

  8. The Pacific Ocean is gearing up for a big El Niño

    In addition, Trenberth says, scientists already see warming in the upper layer of the ocean, with some of the “temperature anomalies” reaching eight degrees Fahrenheit above normal. The last time scientists saw these kinds of numbers, he says, was in 1997-1998, during the last big El Niño event. If El Niño develops in 2014-2015, it will likely lead to a repeat of the disastrous weather the world experienced then.


    • Mark from New England

       /  April 18, 2014

      More and more confirmation…. thanks for finding these great articles Bob.

    • Ah. So the heavyweight, Trenberth, chimes in. That heat in the pipe is a huge blow on the way. Becoming less and less easy to ignore. 8 C is a huge temperature anomaly. Seeing the surface start to pop hooter as of yesterday.

  9. Methane climate change risk suggested by proof of redox cycling of humic substances

    April 17, 2014
    European Association of Geochemistry
    Disruption of natural methane-binding process may worsen climate change, scientists have suggested, painting a stark warning on the possible effects of gases such as methane — which has a greenhouse effect 32 times that of carbon dioxide. Researchers have shown that humic substances act as fully regenerable electron acceptors which helps explain why large amount of methane are held in wetlands instead of being released to the atmosphere.

  1. Another Week of Climate Disruption News, April 20, 2014 – A Few Things Ill Considered
  2. Ocean Temperature Anomaly Hits Extraordinary +1.12 C Above Average Reading on April 22, All Australian Weather Models Now Predict El Nino for 2014 | robertscribbler

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