· ·

New research reveals El Niño pattern in contradiction with top climate models


An international team of scientist has conducted a study of fossil corals and mollusk shells from the Pacific Ocean which has shown there is no link between the strength of seasonal differences and El Niño. This discovery seems to cast a shadow of doubt on the top climate models in use today, known to connect the extreme seasonal weather events with the strength of El Niño.

El Niño, a complex and irregular climate pattern resulting from the ocean temperature variations of the Equatorial Pacific, is commonly considered to have a profound impact on the global weather and climate with wide implications for agriculture, fisheries, tourism and air quality across the globe.

The new research, based on an analysis of fossils from the Pacific Ocean, shows there are more questions that need our attention and that existing climate models still need improvement.

"The idea behind this link is based on very well-established physics, so it's appealing to think that nature works this way. But our analysis shows that it's not that simple," said Julien Emile-Geay, assistant professor of Earth Sciences at the University of South California (USC) Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, a lead author of the study.

The scientist have compared the modeling results with the data collected from shells and fossil corals form the Holocene period spanning across the last 10 000 years of Earth's history. This period of our planet's history had similar geography, amounts of ice and levels of greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere, providing a good benchmark for our present climate.

Shells form by crystallizing calcium carbonate from the surrounding water and they and thus record information about its temperature and salinity. The capture the prevalence of various isotopes of oxygen, which vary with the sea surface temperature.

The research team has analyzed almost 60 species from different locations across the Pacific Ocean which enabled them to create a spatially and time-distributed data set capable of providing an insight into the amplitude of seasons and the intensity of El Niño throughout the past 10 000 years.

The datasets have then been compared to the predictions of the nine top most used climate models and discovered there was a mismatch in the length of subdued El Niño periods, such as those which occurred between 3 000 and 5 000 years ago.

"The causes for prolonged periods of weak El Niño are either beyond the current models, or we're missing an important piece of the puzzle. This points to deficiencies in the way these models simulate various aspects of tropical Pacific climate, from average conditions, to the march of seasons, to El Niño itself," Emile-Geay said.

This findings will hopefully be used to improve the existing climate models and fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle.

"Building climate models is like building a ladder to the Moon. They are not perfect but they are reaching for the heavens. It's a long process, and one in which the paleoclimate record can teach us a lot about the inner workings of the climate system."


  • "Links between tropical Pacific seasonal, interannual and orbital variability during the Holocene" – J. Emile-Geay, K. M. Cobb, M.Carré,    P. Braconnot, J. Leloup, Y. Zhou, S. P. Harrison, T. Corrège, H. V. McGregor, M. Collins, R. Driscoll, M. Elliot, B. Schneider&A. Tudhope – Nature Geoscience (2015) – doi:10.1038/ngeo2608​

Featured image: Average sea surface temperature anomalies in the period between November 15 and December 12, 2015. Image credit: NOAA

If you value what we do here, create your ad-free account and support our journalism.


Your support makes a difference

Dear valued reader,

We hope that our website has been a valuable resource for you.

The reality is that it takes a lot of time, effort, and resources to maintain and grow this website. We rely on the support of readers like you to keep providing high-quality content.

If you have found our website to be helpful, please consider making a contribution to help us continue to bring you the information you need. Your support means the world to us and helps us to keep doing what we love.

Support us by choosing your support level – Silver, Gold or Platinum. Other support options include Patreon pledges and sending us a one-off payment using PayPal.

Thank you for your consideration. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Teo Blašković

$5 /month

  • Ad-free account
  • Clean user interface and fast browsing
  • Direct communication with us via chat and email
  • Suggest new features, content and applications
  • Early access to new apps and features

$50 /year

$10 /month

  • Ad-free account
  • Clean user interface and fast browsing
  • Direct communication with us via chat and email
  • Suggest new features, content and applications
  • Early access to new apps and features

$100 /year

$25 /month

  • Ad-free account
  • Clean user interface and fast browsing
  • Direct communication with us via chat and email
  • Suggest new features, content and applications
  • Early access to new apps and features

$200 /year

You can also support us on Patreon

support us on patreon

or by sending us a one-off payment using PayPal:

Commenting rules and guidelines

We value the thoughts and opinions of our readers and welcome healthy discussions on our website. In order to maintain a respectful and positive community, we ask that all commenters follow these rules:

  • Treat others with kindness and respect.
  • Stay on topic and contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way.
  • Do not use abusive or hateful language.
  • Do not spam or promote unrelated products or services.
  • Do not post any personal information or content that is illegal, obscene, or otherwise inappropriate.

We reserve the right to remove any comments that violate these rules. By commenting on our website, you agree to abide by these guidelines. Thank you for helping to create a positive and welcoming environment for all.

One Comment

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *