El Niño-Southern Oscillation Extremes and Diversity

Jules Kajtar and Esteban Abellan Villardon report on the inaugural ENSO workshop held at the ARCCSS UNSW hub on February 4-6, 2015.by Jules Kajtar and Esteban Abellan Villardon (ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science)

February 4-6, 2015, University of New South Wales.

It is well-known that El Niño and La Niña events influence weather and climate across the globe. They can cause drought, floods, and extreme tropical storms depending on the characteristics of the event, and thus our understanding of their dynamics as well as their prediction has enormous societal benefits. Over 60 research scientists, including a number of the world’s leading experts on climate variability gathered in Sydney to review gaps in our knowledge of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

During the three-day workshop, participants were treated to keynote lectures from Prof. Fei-Fei Jin (University of Hawaii), Dr. Wenju Cai (CSIRO), and Prof. Jong-Seong Kug (Pohang University). Additionally, 36 talks and 24 posters were presented by scientists not only from Australia but also from USA, Korea, Japan, UK, China, France, Germany, India, Peru, and Indonesia, including a few research students. Each day was underscored by fruitful discussion sessions facilitated by Mat Collins (U. Exeter) and Gabe Vecchi (NOAA), in which experts expressed their thoughts about the most controversial topics.

Michael McPhaden (NOAA) began the workshop under the very latest news on “What happened to the 2014 El Niño?”, question on everyone’s lips on day one. In April 2014, forecasters had predicted an end-of-year El Niño so extreme that it would rival the destructive 1997/98 event. By September, the forecasts were downgraded to a weak El Niño or neutral conditions. Presenters offered various hypotheses for the failed event throughout the day, from unfavourable atmospheric conditions, to an altered mean climate state. Lively debates ensued. 

The theme for day two was long-term ENSO variability. Presentations were offered on how El Niño or La Niña events would change over the coming century under different global warming scenarios. In particular, how would these changing events alter temperature and precipitation rates in various regions around the world?

Modelling and related issues was the flavour of the final day. Model performance was discussed and evaluated, and future modelling experiments were proposed in order to improve the new generation of climate models, CMIP6. The workshop concluded with some predictions on the state of our understanding by the year 2025. The body of work has grown enormously over recent decades, but it seems we still have a long way to go!

The workshop was not just about science and science only, but also about friendships to foster research collaboration.  It was nice to catch up with old colleagues and making new friends over meals.   Overseas guests seemed to be impressed with the taste of the Australian BBQ at a dinner held at the UNSW campus on the first day.

A little bus trip adventure to Circular Quay after the second-day workshop was a bit like a school excursion. But it was an excellent way of seeing the colourful and crowded streets of the Sydney CBD on a Thursday evening, and certainly it was all worth it at the end as a hearty meal was awaiting in a great international-class restaurant.

The social outing on the last day marked the end of the workshop, with a bunch of people headed to one of the Thai places at ‘the Spot’, near the campus to say goodbye and congratulate each other on their science presentations and event organization.

The ENSO Workshop has helped to forge a stronger scientific community, and it was invaluable for introducing younger researcher to established experts. It was funded jointly by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science and CSIRO. The Scientific Organising Committee included prominent researchers from the UK, USA and France, with four of the main organisers being based in Australia: Agus Santoso (UNSW), Wenju Cai (CSIRO), Guojian Wang (CSIRO), and Dietmar Dommenget (Monash).



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