Ocean acidity data affirms predictions of changes to El Nino conditions

A multi-institutional research team led by Yale and the University of St. Andrews has confirmed a major finding of regarding changes that may occur to Pacific Ocean currents—including those that drive El Niño events—with just a few degrees of global warming.

El Niño affects weather, food security, economic productivity, and public safety for much of the planet. But there is ongoing debate as to how well climate models can replicate and predict past and future climate conditions in the tropics.

The new findings, published in the journal Nature, reflect the increased potential of climate models for predicting complex environmental dynamics. The findings also establish acidity as an essential variable in climate modeling.

“Accurately capturing in the equatorial Pacific in global climate models is crucial for predicting regional climate in the warmer decades to come,” said lead author Madison Shankle, a former Yale researcher who is now at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Over the past decade, Alexey Fedorov, a professor of ocean and atmospheric sciences in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), has conducted groundbreaking research on ocean dynamics around the world, including El Niño events—the warm phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation that features unusually in the Pacific. Fedorov and his research group conducted climate model simulations that look at ocean temperature proxies of the distant past, when global temperatures were several degrees warmer, as well as the present, to predict what might happen in a future, warmer world.

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