University of Washington: Modelle können Einfluss des Klimawandels auf El Ninos nicht zuverlässig vorhersagen

Die El Ninos von 1997/1998 und 2015/16 waren in ihrer Stärke sehr ähnlich. Allerdings unterschieden sie sich im Detail, wie Houk Paek und Kollegen im Februar 2017 in den Geophysical Research Letters beschrieben:

Why were the 2015/2016 and 1997/1998 extreme El Niños different?
Subtle but important differences are identified between the 1997/1998 and 2015/2016 extreme El Niños that reflect fundamental differences in their underlying dynamics. The 1997/1998 event is found to evolve following the eastern Pacific El Niño dynamics that relies on basin-wide thermocline variations, whereas the 2015/2016 event involves additionally the central Pacific (CP) El Niño dynamics that depends on subtropical forcing. The stronger CP dynamics during the 2015/2016 event resulted in its sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies lingering around the International Date Line during the decaying phase, which is in contrast to the retreat of the anomalies toward the South American Coast during the decaying phase of the 1997/1998 event. The different SST evolution excited different wave trains resulting in the western U.S. not receiving the same above-normal rainfall during the 2015/2016 El Niño as it did during the 1997/1998 El Niño. Ensemble model experiments are conducted to confirm the different climate impacts of the two El Niños.

Wussten Sie übrigens schon, dass die El Ninos vor 10.000 Jahren ebenso stark und häufig waren wie heute? Nachzulesen in einer Pressemitteilung  der University of Washington vom August 2014. Unter anderem weisen die Autoren daraufhin, dass Klimamodelle das El Nino-Geschehen einfach nicht in den Griff bekommen. Sie warnen daher, den Zukunftmodellierungen der unvollständigen Modelle zu vertrauen:

Ancient Shellfish remains rewrite 10,000 year history of El Nino cycles

The planet’s largest and most powerful driver of climate changes from one year to the next, the El Niño Southern Oscillation in the tropical Pacific Ocean, was widely thought to have been weaker in ancient times because of a different configuration of the Earth’s orbit. But scientists analyzing 25-foot piles of ancient shells have found that the El Niños 10,000 years ago were as strong and frequent as the ones we experience today. The results, from the University of Washington and University of Montpellier, question how well computer models can reproduce historical El Niño cycles, or predict how they could change under future climates. The paper is now online and will appear in an upcoming issue of Science.

“We thought we understood what influences the El Niño mode of climate variation, and we’ve been able to show that we actually don’t understand it very well,” said Julian Sachs, a UW professor of oceanography. The ancient shellfish feasts also upend a widely held interpretation of past climate. “Our data contradicts the hypothesis that El Niño activity was very reduced 10,000 years ago, and then slowly increased since then,” said first author Matthieu Carré, who did the research as a UW postdoctoral researcher and now holds a faculty position at the University of Montpellier in France.

In 2007, while at the UW-based Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, Carré accompanied archaeologists to seven sites in coastal Peru. Together they sampled 25-foot-tall piles of shells from Mesodesma donacium clams eaten and then discarded over centuries into piles that archaeologists call middens. While in graduate school, Carré had developed a technique to analyze shell layers to get ocean temperatures, using carbon dating of charcoal from fires to get the year, and the ratio of oxygen isotopes in the growth layers to get the water temperatures as the shell was forming.

The shells provide 1- to 3-year-long records of monthly temperature of the Pacific Ocean along the coast of Peru. Combining layers of shells from each site gives water temperatures for intervals spanning 100 to 1,000 years during the past 10,000 years. The new record shows that 10,000 years ago the El Niño cycles were strong, contradicting the current leading interpretations. Roughly 7,000 years ago the shells show a shift to the central Pacific of the most severe El Niño impacts, followed by a lull in the strength and occurrence of El Niño from about 6,000 to 4,000 years ago.

One possible explanation for the surprising finding of a strong El Niño 10,000 years ago was that some other factor was compensating for the dampening effect expected from cyclical changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun during that period. “The best candidate is the polar ice sheet, which was melting very fast in this period and may have increased El Niño activity by changing ocean currents,” Carré said.

Around 6,000 years ago most of the ice age floes would have finished melting, so the effect of Earth’s orbital geometry might have taken over then to cause the period of weak El Niños. In previous studies, warm-water shells and evidence of flooding in Andean lakes had been interpreted as signs of a much weaker El Niño around 10,000 years ago. The new data is more reliable, Carré said, for three reasons: the Peruvian coast is strongly affected by El Niño; the shells record ocean temperature, which is the most important parameter for the El Niño cycles; and the ability to record seasonal changes, the timescale at which El Niño can be observed.

“Climate models and a variety of datasets had concluded that El Niños were essentially nonexistent, did not occur, before 6,000 to 8,000 years ago,” Sachs said. “Our results very clearly show that this is not the case, and suggest that current understanding of the El Niño system is incomplete.” The research was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the French National Research Agency.

Other co-authors are Sara Purca at the Marine Institute of Peru; Andrew Schauer, a UW research scientist in Earth and space sciences; Pascale Braconnot at France’s Climate and Environment Sciences Laboratory; Rommel Angeles Falcón at Peru’s Minister of Culture; and Michèle Julien and Danièle Lavallée at France’s René Ginouvès Institute for Archaeology and Anthropology.

Journal Reference: M. Carre, J. P. Sachs, S. Purca, A. J. Schauer, P. Braconnot, R. A. Falcon, M. Julien, D. Lavallee. Holocene history of ENSO variance and asymmetry in the eastern tropical Pacific. Science, 2014; DOI: 10.1126/science.1252220