Placing the AD 2014–2016 ‘protracted’ El Niño episode into a long-term context

Robert J. Allan*, Joëlle Gergis, Rosanne D. D’Arrigo

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    20 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Although extended or ‘protracted’ El Niño and La Niña episodes were first suggested nearly 20 years ago, they have not received the attention of other ‘flavours’ of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) or low-frequency ‘ENSO-like’ phenomena. In this study, instrumental variables and palaeoclimatic reconstructions are used to investigate the most recent ‘protracted’ El Niño episode in 2014–2016, and place it into a longer historical context. Although just reaching the threshold for such an episode, the 2014–2016 ‘protracted’ El Niño had very severe societal, agricultural, environmental and ecological impacts, particularly in western Pacific regions like eastern Australia. We show that although ‘protracted’ ENSO episodes of either phase cause similar, near-global modulations of weather and climate as during more ‘classical’ events, impacts associated with ‘protracted’ episodes last longer, with strong influences in eastern Australia. The latter is a response to the dominance of Niño 4 sea surface temperature (SST) and associated atmospheric teleconnection anomalies during ‘protracted’ ENSO episodes. Importantly, while Niño 4 SST anomalies recorded during the austral summer of 2016 were the highest values on record, an analysis of long-term palaeoclimate records indicates that there may have been episodes of greater magnitude and duration than seen in instrumental observations. This suggests that shorter instrumental observations may underestimate the risks of possible future ENSO extremes compared with those observed from multi-century palaeoclimate records. Improved knowledge of ENSO and the potential to forecast ‘protracted’ episodes would be of immense practical benefit to communities affected by the severe impacts of ENSO extremes.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)90-105
    Number of pages16
    JournalHolocene
    Volume30
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020

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