The 1990–1995 El Niño-Southern Oscillation Event: Longest on Record
Article first published online: 7 DEC 2012
Copyright 1996 by the American Geophysical Union.
Geophysical Research Letters
Volume 23, Issue 1, pages 57–60, 1 January 1996
How to Cite
- Issue published online: 7 DEC 2012
- Article first published online: 7 DEC 2012
- Manuscript Accepted: 13 NOV 1995
- Manuscript Received: 21 AUG 1995
The tendency for more frequent El Niño events and fewer La Niña events since the late 1970's has been linked to decadal changes in climate throughout the Pacific basin. Aspects of the most recent warming in the tropical Pacific from 1990 to 1995, which are connected to but not synonymous with El Niño, are unprecedented in the climate record of the past 113 years. There is a distinction between El Niño (EN), the Southern Oscillation (SO) in the atmosphere, and ENSO, where the two are strongly linked, that emerges clearly on decadal time scales. In the traditional El Niño region, sea surface temperature anomalies (SSTAs) have waxed and waned, while SSTAs in the central equatorial Pacific, which are better linked to the SO, remained positive from 1990 to June 1995. We carry out several statistical tests to assess the likelihood that the recent behavior of the SO is part of a natural decadal-timescale variation. One test fits an autoregressive-moving average (ARMA) model to a measure of the SO given by the first hundred years of the pressures at Darwin, Australia, beginning in 1882. Both the recent trend for more ENSO events since 1976 and the prolonged 1990–1995 ENSO event are unexpected given the previous record, with a probability of occurrence about once in 2,000 years. This opens up the possibility that the ENSO changes may be partly caused by the observed increases in greenhouse gases.