El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)

The term El Niño was initially used to describe a warm-water current that periodically flows along the coast of Ecuador and Peru, disrupting the local fishery. It has since become identified with a basin-wide warmingof the tropical Pacific Ocean east of the dateline. This oceanic event is associated with a fluctuation of a global-scale tropical and subtropical surface pressure pattern called the Southern Oscillation. This coupledatmosphere-ocean phenomenon, with preferred time scales of 2 to about 7 years, is collectively known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. It is often measured by the surface pressure anomaly difference betweenDarwin and Tahiti and the sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. During an ENSO event, the prevailing trade winds weaken, reducing upwelling and altering ocean currents such that the sea surface temperatures warm, further weakening the trade winds. This event has a great impact on the wind, sea surface temperature, and precipitation patterns in the tropical Pacific. It has climatic effectsthroughout the Pacific region and in many other parts of the world, through global teleconnections. The cold phase of ENSO is called La Niña.