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What is Southern Oscillation?

By Pamela Pleasant
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Southern oscillation or El Niño pertains to the temperature of the ocean and the atmosphere. It is commonly referred to as El Niño or La Niña depending on the weather pattern. This typically happens every five years but it can also occur every three to seven years. The changing of temperatures during a southern oscillation can affect the weather all around the world. Floods or draughts can also occur during these weather patterns.

El Niño is a warming of the central tropical pacific ocean waters. Typically, cooler northeasterly winds combined with warm ocean surface water produces average weather conditions but when there is little to no cooling effect and the surface ocean water is allowed to heat up, it is considered an el Niño event. This can cause substantial rains in some areas, while causing droughts in other areas. A La Niña occurs when cooler northern winds mix with cooler surface ocean waters.

A southern oscillation can last from a few months to a few years. Experts can sometimes predict when the oscillations will occur. When there is a rise or fall in the surface pressure or trade winds change course, this can indicate a change in weather patterns. For example, if these winds carry warmer ocean water to a specific area, another area may suffer because it will also take the rainfall with it. This leaves too much rain in some areas and drought conditions in others.

The cooling or warming of water during southern oscillation can have a negative effect on the fishing in the west pacific. When El Niño, or a warming effect, happens, the fish population can dwindle a bit but fish can still be caught. If temperatures are too extreme, the fish can completely disappear. Colder water mixed with warmer water and high pressure is the best scenario for catching fish. This type of weather pattern is also good for the ecosystem in the specific area.

Birds can also be affected by a southern oscillation. If they do not have any food to eat, they will not produce essential droppings because of the loss of fish. This can cause a domino effect on all wildlife that depends on the sea for food. By predicting a southern oscillation, human intervention can work to save at least some of the animals.

El Niño is a Spanish phrase which means the boy. This is a reference to Jesus because this weather pattern typically happens around Christmas. It is noticed more during the Christmas season because this is also the best time to catch fish.

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