ENSO: Past, Present, Future
last updated May 10th, 2006 (check back frequently for updates)


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(latest weekly analysis from NOAA NCEP EMC CMB GLOBAL Reyn_SmithOIv2 weekly Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly, served from  the LDEO/IRI Data Catalog; click on map for data description, more data and other viewing options)


Motivation: While the present-day dynamics of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon are broadly understood, predictability is limited, the long-term natural variability is poorly known, and the effect of greenhouse warming on the tropical ocean-atmosphere system is currently in much debate.  In this course, we will discuss the following topics:

  1. Physics of ENSO: Theory, phenomenology, predictive modeling, global impacts.
  2. Paleoclimatology of ENSO: This semester, we will focus on mechanisms of decadal climate variability.
  3. ENSO in the greenhouse world: How is ENSO expected to evolve as atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations continue to increase?

Goals: By the conclusion of this course students will have:

  1. Gained a solid understanding of the coupled tropical ocean-atmosphere system.
  2. Critically evaluated the relevant climate dynamics and paleoclimatological literature.
  3. Communicated ideas (their own and those of others) and debated controversial issues.



Instructor: Michael Evans , Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research , 214 W. Stadium .  ph 626-2897;  email: .
Office hours: Thursdays 1-2pm, W. Stadium 214, or by appointment.  I will try to answer email correspondence within 24 hours.

Location and Time:  Tree-Ring Lab-West Seminar Room (Rm. 20), Wednesdays, 3-4:30pm.  Our introductory meeting will be on January 11, 2006.  Stay tuned for meeting time/date changes depending on student availability, to be fixed no later than Jan 12, 2006.


Prerequisites: An interest in the science of global climate change. Prior or current coursework in oceanography, meteorology and climatology will be helpful, but we will begin with fundamentals.

Additional reading and course materials: I will provide them electronically here; alternatively as handouts in class.  Please let me know if computer and Internet access is a problem for you.

Workload: A commitment to reading the assigned literature (approximately 4-6 hrs/week) and active participation in discussions is absolutely essential.  To provide some baseline concepts, I will lecture on occasion, but otherwise, students will trade off presenting the week's topics.

More background reading: if you'd like more background on ocean-atmosphere dynamics and paleoclimatology, see these excellent texts to get started (you can borrow many from me for short periods; also check them out from the library):

Expectations:  For 2 units of credit, students will read the literature assigned for class and participate actively in discussions; students will lead class at least twice, and preferably three times, during the course of the semester.  See the evaluation rubric for what I expect from your participation in the course.  I will provide constructive feedback on your work throughout the semester to help you improve.  Depending on the number of participants, expect to lead class at least twice during the semester.  For 3 units of credit: In addition to the 2-unit requirements, an 8-10 page term paper, including critical discussion of current literature, on a topic agreed to in advance with the instructor, will be required.




Syllabus (subject to revision)
Big Picture
Reading Assignment
discussion leader
January 11th The Big Picture Organizational meeting; Introduction (pdf;ppt; html) 1.  bookmark course website
2.  return class survey
3.  email me which discussions you'd like to lead
January 18th Present-day ENSO
Phenomenology (pdf; ppt; html)
Cane (1983)
Rasmusson and Wallace (1983)
January 25th
Coupled ocean-atmosphere dynamics (pdf)
Bjerknes (1969)  RQ
Barsugli's delayed oscillator animation
J. Criscio
(summary by MNE)
February 1st

Predictive Modeling; 1997-8, 2002-3 events  (pdf) Zebiak and Cane (1987)  RQ
M. Decker
February 8th
Modern ENSO theory and observations;
2005-6 diagnosis; 2006-7 prognosis (pdf)
McPhaden (1999)  RQ
TAO array data exercise
February 15th
Teleconnection Theory and observations (pdf)
Tribbia (1991); RQ Redmond and Koch (1991)
Teleconnection data exercise
S. Bieda, J. Conroy
February 22nd

Regional Teleconnections: Observations (pdf)
Gutzler et al. (2002); Higgins et al. (1999)  RQ
J. Conroy, S. Bieda
March 1st
Paleoclimatology of ENSO Decadal variability: Paradigm (pdf) Fedorov and Philander (2000)  RQ;
Fedorov and Philander (2001)
T. Ault
March 8th

Decadal variability: Proxy observations (pdf) Gedalof and Smith (2001); Evans et al. (2001a); RQ
Evans et al. (2001b)
Proxy data analysis exercise
March 15th
Spring break - no class

March 22nd

Decadal variability: Historical data and analyses (pdf)
Quinn et al. (1992)
Guest Speaker: Henry Diaz, NOAA/CDC and LTRR
March 29th

Decadal variability: Models (pdf; pdf)
Karspeck and Cane (2002);  Schneider and Cornuelle (2005); RQ P. Shaw, T. Ault
April 5th

Decadal-scale Pacific-North American Climate Variability and Predictability (pdf; pdf)
Venzke et al. (2000); Pierce (2001); RQ S. Bieda, P. Shaw
April 12th ENSO in a Greenhouse World Q&A: Review of ENSO physics
Observations: past century (pdf)
Cane et al. (1997) (for background, see Kaplan et al. (1998)  RQ
J. Criscio
April 19th
Simple model: forced chaos (pdf)
Khatiwala et al. (2001)  RQ N. Johnson
April 26th
GCM studies (pdf; pdf) Collins (2005); Timmerman et al. (1999); RQ
(for background, see Bacher et al. (1998) and Dai et al. (2001))
M. Decker, N. Johnson
May 3rd
The Big Picture Last class - Wrap up (pdf). Review all