Researchers project behavioral change of El Niño phenomenon and its characteristic Pacific wind response

Researchers project behavioral change of El Niño phenomenon and its characterist

A study has explored sea level rise in Pacific Ocean. The study was conducted by two scientists at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa's International Pacific Research Center, along with their colleagues from Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia.

Computer modeling experiments and tide-gauge analysis were done by Matthew Wildlansky, Axel Timmermann, and Wenju Cai for understanding the culprit for likely frequent extreme inter-annual sea level swings. A behavioral change of the El Niño phenomenon and its characteristic Pacific wind response has been projected by the study trio.

At the time of El Niño, warm water and high sea levels shift eastward, leaving the western Pacific with low water levels. In the coming 6months to a year later, the east-west seesaw, followed by north-south sea level seesaw is likely to result in drop in water levels by about one foot in the Southern Hemisphere.

Shallow marine ecosystems in the South Pacific Islands can be exposed due to these drops, and lead to huge coral die-offs and foul smelling tide, called taimasa.

The scientists explored the greenhouse warming effect of El Niño sea level seesaws in the coming time. Scientists used state-of-the-art climate models, and accounted for rising greenhouse gas concentrations, along with simulations of the noted climate and tide-gauge records for the verification of the model results.

They determined that projected climate change is going to boost El Niño-related sea level extremes. According to the results, by the end of century, the experiments will be showcasing intensified wind impacts of El Niño and La Nina events, which will probably double the frequency of extreme sea level occurrences, mainly in the tropical southwestern Pacific.

"From our previous work, we know that toward the end of a very strong El Niño event, the tide-gauge measurements around Guam quickly return to normal reflecting the east-west seesaw, but those near Samoa continue to drop as a result of the lagging north-south seesaw," said Widlansky. "During these strong events, the summer rainband over Samoa, called the South Pacific Convergence Zone, shifts toward the equator and alters the trade winds and ocean currents which in turn change the sea level."

"Our results are consistent with previous findings that showed the atmospheric effects of both El Niño and La Niña are likely to become stronger and more common in a future warmer climate," said Cai.

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