Posts Tagged El Nino

Jun 25 2018

El Nino, squid tariffs concern California’s ‘wetfish’ sector as prices dive

A California market squid. Photograph courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


Facing difficulties in the other pelagic species it catches, squid was a much needed bright spot for the ‘wetfish’ sector in the US state of California. Until last week.

Landings of California market squid (Doryteuthis loligo opalescens) totaled over 68,211 metric tons for the 2017 to 2018 season, which ran from April 2017 until March. That compared to 38,510t for the 2016/17 season, a sign the fishery was climbing back from years of depressed catches due to El Nino.

Nearly 8,200t have been caught during the first three months of the current season, and with the news that the sector’s key export market, China, will impose 25% tariffs on the product on top of existing 27% tariffs, a bountiful season this year may not be a good thing.

“Fishing is slow right now which is probably better because it gives it a chance to adapt,” John DeLuca, president and CEO of the J DeLuca Fish Company, told Undercurrent News.

He said that like other ‘wetfish’ harvesters, his San Pedro, California-based firm has seen China-bound orders cancelled ahead of the July 6 deadline when the new rates are supposed to come into effect.

The solution, DeLuca said, will be to “wake up old customers and markets” such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, although none of those countries buy squid at the prices and volumes that China does currently.

The result, DeLuca predicted, will be lower prices for processors and fishermen. Ex-vessel prices for squid, currently around, $1,000 per metric ton, are poised to go lower to $700, perhaps even as low as $500, he said.

“How far its going to go down, what’s the bottom going to be, we still don’t know,” he said.

‘Wetfish’ worries

Days earlier, squid processors told Undercurrent that prior to the new tariffs China was paying roughly $3,500/t for squid, which included a 27% tariff already. However, once the new 25% tariff ($911.25) is added on, the cost of squid in China will go from a total of $3,645/t to $4,556.25/t, which Chinese buyers likely won’t bear.

For Diane Pleschner-Steele, the executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association, that means the fishermen and processors could be forced to receive less for their efforts.

“That gets down the slippery slope of, if you’re going to reduce the price you have to pay the boats less and are the boats going to be able to go fishing at the lower price given the fact that fuel is now $4 per gallon?” she said.

New markets remain an option, she added, although it will depend on global supply and demand for squid.

The processors that her group represents are historically known as “wetfish” producers because their target pelagic species —  sardine, anchovy and mackerel — were canned while still wet.

But in addition to the trade woes, Pleschner-Steele said that the return of El Nino conditions could cause further issues. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration issued an “El Nino watch” earlier this month for the Pacific.

The agency predicted “neutral” El Nino conditions for the Northern Hemisphere for the rest of the summer with “the chance for El Nino increasing to 50% during fall, and ~65% during winter 2018-19”.

“We’re starting to see all the signs of it again. We’re seeing the red crabs coming again. We’re seeing fish pushing north. Usually when they start catching squid in Oregon it means that El Ninos aren’t far behind,” Pleschner-Steele said.

Unfortunately for wetfish fishermen, conditions for the pelagic species they catch haven’t been optimal either. Anchovy landings have been low, and a judge recently invalidated a rule allowing for a 25,000t quota, mackerel haven’t been plentiful, and the sardine fishery has been closed to directed commercial fishing although an incidental fishery is allowed.

Originally posted: | Author:

Apr 4 2018

Market squid tell a tale of two krill

In good years, noisy fishing boats filled with freshly-netted market squid spill their slippery catch into processing plants on the California coast. During those years, market squid (Doryteuthis opalescens) are California’s most productive fishery, accounting for up to $70 million in revenue and 110,000 metric tons of squid. But in other years, calamari is hard to find. Cyclical changes in ocean conditions change the productivity of California waters, and as a result squid populations plummet and the fishing industry suffers.

Fishermen and researchers have known about this cycle for decades—the rise and fall of squid populations are clearly linked to El Niño cycles—but the cause is a complicated tale. This is according to Steven Litvin, an ecologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). Litvin spent several years researching the ups and downs of market squid looking for trends that could help fishers and regulators better predict how squid populations might respond to natural and human-induced changes in the ocean.

Market squid (Doryteuthis opalescens) are one of California’s biggest fisheries, but their populations fluctuate drastically with changes in ocean climate conditions. Image: © 2001 MBARI

The story starts with juvenile market squid, a month or so after they hatch from their egg capsules. The young predators are only 15-70 millimeters long, “sort of similar in size and shape to a baby carrot,” said Litvin. As they grow to adult size, the juveniles rely in large part on two different species of krill as food.

Thysanoessa spinifera is one of two species of krill that market squid often feed on in California waters. Image: Steve Haddock

Krill are small crustaceans that live their lives filtering tiny algae, also known as phytoplankton, out of the water column. In places like California, where upwelling currents bring deep, cold, nutrient-rich water to the surface, the algae bloom and flourish, nourishing huge swarms of krill. But when ocean conditions vary, so do the phytoplankton.

In an El Niño year, the surface of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean warms, winds change, and upwelling slows along the usually productive California coast. These are less productive years in terms of the oceanic food web—less upwelling means less algae, which means fewer krill. Fewer krill mean that juvenile squid might have a tough time finding and collecting enough food.

Litvin and colleagues decided to pick apart one piece of this complex story—the feeding behavior of juvenile squid on two krill species. The krill vary both over time, with El Niño cycles and other changes in yearly productivity, and over space, up and down the California coast. One species of krill (Thysanoessa spinifera) gathers in larger numbers over the continental shelf near to shore, thrives in nutrient-rich waters, and is more frequently found in central and northern California. The other (Euphausia pacifica) is common farther away from shore in deeper water, and can be found anywhere along the California coast.

Most species of krill spend their nights feeding on algae near the sea surface and descend into dark, inaccessible waters during the day to avoid predators. But E. pacifica makes a much longer daily migration than T. spinifera, taking them deeper below the surface and making them more difficult prey for juvenile squid. In productive years, Litvin expected that squid would feed on plentiful krill from both species, but during unproductive years the squid might be forced to change their diets.

This graphic shows simplified food webs for market squid during productive years and unproductive years. The sizes of the circles indicate the relative populations of each type of animal. Image: Vicky Stein © 2018 MBARI

In partnership with the National Marine Fisheries Service Litvin and the team used samples from midwater trawl surveys to look at stable isotopes in juvenile squid tissue. By looking at specific kinds of carbon and nitrogen atoms in a squid’s body, the researchers hoped to learn where that individual’s food was coming from.

Researchers find a tangled web of isotope gradients in the oceans. Isotopes, “heavier” or “lighter” versions of atoms like carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, or oxygen, move differently through nutrient cycles and food webs. Nitrogen-15, for example, is found to increase in animals higher up the food web, accumulating as one animal consumes another.

If Litvin found that a squid had stable carbon and nitrogen values close to those of T. spinifera, the near-shore krill, it would suggest that the animal was feeding more heavily on this species. Squid with different isotope values could be feeding more heavily on offshore krill (E. pacifica) or other prey. Litvin noted that with so many different variables affecting isotopes (latitude, distance from land, water depth, and others), the specific numbers can be confusing. Researchers must make careful comparisons between sampling sites and years.

Litvin and colleagues examined juvenile squid tissue samples collected from many sites along the California coast in 2013 and 2015. While 2013 was an average year in terms of productivity, 2015 was a year of a strong El Niño event—an atypical year with variable upwelling, an unusual offshore warm water “blob,” and changes in food webs.

Over the whole California coast in 2013, squid isotope values in areas with lots of upwelling and productivity corresponded well with T. spinifera as a major food source for the juvenile squid, as expected. Litvin was then unsurprised to find that in 2015, isotope ratios indicated that juvenile squid in some of the same areas fed less on T. spinifera and more heavily on difficult-to-catch E. pacifica.

Southern California was a bit different. The squid populations in the south are less variable than the boom-and-bust cycles commonly seen in central California and, no matter the ocean conditions, those squid seem to rely on E. pacifica. While central California squid populations seemed to respond to relative abundances of T. spinifera and E. Pacifica, southern California populations might respond just based on the abundance or absence of E. pacifica. The variation between unproductive and normal years, said Litvin, could be “based on the same productivity, but with different drivers.”

Swarms of krill, such as this one, flourish in productive, phytoplankton-rich water. Image © 2003 MBARI

Litvin started this research before joining Jim Barry’s lab at MBARI. Now, Litvin hopes he and his fellow researchers will be able to discover even more of the interactions that tie together krill, squid, and environmental oscillation.

As El Niño cycles affect productivity off of the California coast, scientists and fishermen will be watching squid populations closely. And as climate change begins to shift patterns of upwelling and other ocean conditions, Litvin hopes that research on the interactions between currents, krill, and squid will help people predict what might happen to this lucrative and vital species.

According to Litvin, “it’s still a really evolving story.”

Originally posted: Article by Vicky Stein

Jul 7 2016

‘The Blob’ overshadows El Nino

‘The Blob’ and El Niño are on their way out, leaving a disrupted marine ecosystem behind. Credit: Michael Jacox

El Niño exerted powerful effects around the globe in the last year, eroding California beaches; driving drought in northern South America, Africa and Asia; and bringing record rain to the U.S. Pacific Northwest and southern South America. In the Pacific Ocean off the West Coast, however, the California Current Ecosystem was already unsettled by an unusual pattern of warming popularly known as “The Blob.”

New research based on ocean models and near real-time data from autonomous gliders indicates that the “The Blob” and El Niño together strongly depressed productivity off the West Coast, with The Blob driving most of the impact.

The research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters by scientists from NOAA Fisheries, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and University of California, Santa Cruz is among the first to assess the marine effects of the 2015-2016 El Niño off the West Coast of the United States.

“Last year there was a lot of speculation about the consequences of ‘The Blob’ and El Niño battling it out off the U.S. West Coast,” said lead author Michael Jacox, of UC Santa Cruz and NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center. “We found that off California El Niño turned out to be much weaker than expected, The Blob continued to be a dominant force, and the two of them together had strongly negative impacts on marine productivity.”

“Now, both The Blob and El Niño are on their way out, but in their wake lies a heavily disrupted ecosystem,” Jacox said.

Unusually warm ocean temperatures that took on the name, The Blob, began affecting waters off the West Coast in late 2013. Warm conditions – whether driven by the Blob or El Niño – slow the flow of nutrients from the deep ocean, reducing the productivity of coastal ecosystems. Temperatures close to 3 degrees C (5 degrees F) above average also led to sightings of warm-water species far to the north of their typical range and likely contributed to the largest harmful algal bloom ever recorded on the West Coast last year.

 Wintertime temperature anomalies off the US west coast during the strong El Niños of 1997-98 and 2015-16. In 1997-98 warming was strongest near the coast, consistent with effects of El Niño. In 2015-16, warming was more uniform and widespread, consistent with pre-existing warming known as ‘the Blob.’ Credit: Michael Jacox

“These past years have been extremely unusual off the California coast, with humpback whales closer to shore, pelagic red crabs washing up on the beaches of central California, and sportfish in higher numbers in southern California,” said Elliott Hazen of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, a coauthor of the paper. “This paper reveals how broad scale warming influences the biology directly off our shores.”

The research paper describes real-time monitoring of the California Current Ecosystem with the latest technology, including autonomous gliders that track undersea conditions along the West Coast. “This work reflects technological advances that now let us rapidly assess the effects of major climate disruptions and project their impacts on the ecosystem,” Jacox said.

Separate but related research recently published in Scientific Reports identifies the optimal conditions for productivity in the California Current off the West Coast, which will help assess the future effects of climate change or climate variability such as El Niño. The research was authored by the same scientists at UC Santa Cruz and NOAA Fisheries.

“Wind has a ‘goldilocks effect’ on productivity in the California Current,” Hazen said. “If wind is too weak, nutrients limit productivity, and if wind is too strong, productivity is moved offshore or lost to the deep ocean. Understanding how wind and nutrients drive productivity provides context for events like the Blob and El Niño, so we can better understand how the ecosystem is likely to respond.”

Both papers emphasize the importance of closely monitoring West Coast marine ecosystems for the impacts of a changing climate. Although the tropical signals of El Niño were strong, the drivers – called “teleconnections” – that usually carry the El Niño pattern from the tropics to the West Coast were not as effective as in previous strong El Niños.

“Not all El Niños evolve in the same way in the tropics, nor are their impacts the same off our coast,” said Steven Bograd, a research scientist at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center and coauthor of both papers. “Local conditions, in this case from the Blob, can modulate the way our ecosystem responds to these large scale climate events.”

Explore further: ‘Warm blob’ in Pacific Ocean linked to weird weather across the US

More information: Michael G. Jacox et al, Impacts of the 2015-2016 El Niño on the California Current System: Early assessment and comparison to past events, Geophysical Research Letters (2016). DOI: 10.1002/2016GL069716

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Apr 6 2016

New NASA Study Shows Lessening El Nino Impacts This Spring

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Copyright © 2016

Seafood News

A new NASA study documents the current El Nino impact on the marine food chain, hoping to show where recovery may begin this spring.  The preliminary conclusions are that a recovery from El Nino is underway and that in Chile and Peru, impacts were less devastating than the 1998 super El Nino.

An El Nino, in which masses of warm tropical water slosh eastward to the coast of South America, has a huge impact on primary marine production, which NASA scientists are currently studying.

El Nino’s mass of warm water puts a lid on the normal currents of cold, deep water that typically rise to the surface along the equator and off the coast of Chile and Peru, said Stephanie Uz, ocean scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. In a process called upwelling, those cold waters normally bring up the nutrients that feed the tiny organisms, which form the base of the food chain.

“An El Nino basically stops the normal upwelling,” Uz said. “There’s a lot of starvation that happens to the marine food web.” These tiny plants, called phytoplankton, are fish food — without them, fish populations drop, and the fishing industries that many coastal regions depend on can collapse.

NASA satellite data and ocean color software allow scientists to calculate the amount of green chlorophyll — and therefore the amount of phytoplankton present.

The ocean color maps, based on a month’s worth of satellite data, can show that El Nino impact on phytoplankton. In December 2015, at the peak of the current El Nino event, there was more blue — and less green chlorophyll — in the Pacific Ocean off of Peru and Chile, compared to the previous year. Uz and her colleagues are also watching as the El Nino weakens this spring, to see when and where the phytoplankton reappear as the upwelling cold water brings nutrients back to the region.

“They can pop back up pretty quickly, once they have a source of nutrients,” Uz said.

Researchers can also examine the differences in ocean color between two different El Nino events. During the large 1997-1998 El Nino event, the green chlorophyll virtually disappeared from the coast of Chile. This year’s event, while it caused a drop in chlorophyll primarily along the equator, was much less severe for the coastal phytoplankton population. The reason — the warmer-than-normal waters associated with the two El Nino events were centered in different geographical locations. In 1997-1998, the biggest ocean temperature abnormalities were in the eastern Pacific Ocean; this year the focus was in the central ocean. This difference impacts where the phytoplankton can feed on nutrients, and where the fish can feed on phytoplankton.

“When you have an East Pacific El Nino, like 1997-1998, it has a much bigger impact on the fisheries off of South America,” Uz said. But Central Pacific El Nino events, like this year’s, still have an impact on ocean ecosystems, just with a shift in location. Researchers are noting reduced food available along the food chain around the Galapagos Islands, for example. And there has been a drop in phytoplankton off the coast of South America, just not as dramatically as before.

Scientists have more tools on hand to study this El Nino, and can study more elements of the event, Uz said. They’re putting these tools to use to ask questions not just about ocean ecology, but about the carbon cycle as well.

“We know how important phytoplankton are for the marine food web, and we’re trying to understand their role as a carbon pump,” Uz said. The carbon pump refers to one of the ways the Earth system removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When phytoplankton die, their carbon-based bodies sink to the ocean floor, where they can remain for millions of years. El Nino is a naturally occurring disruption to the typical ocean currents, she said — so it’s important to understand the phenomenon to better attribute what occurs naturally, and what occurs due to human-caused disruptions to the system.

Other scientists at Goddard are investigating ways to forecast the ebbs and flows of nutrients using the center’s supercomputers, incorporating data like winds, sea surface temperatures, air pressures and more.

“It’s like weather forecasts, but for bionutrients and phytoplankton in the ocean,” said Cecile Rousseaux, an ocean modeler with Goddard’s Global Modeling and Assimilation Office. The forecasts could help fisheries managers estimate how good the catch could be in a particular year, she said, since fish populations depend on phytoplankton populations. The 1997-1998 El Nino led to a major collapse in the anchovy fishery off of Chile, which caused economic hardships for fishermen along the coast.

So far, Rousseaux said, the phytoplankton forecast models haven’t shown any collapses for the 2015-2016 El Nino, possibly because the warm water isn’t reaching as far east in the Pacific this time around. The forecast of phytoplankton populations effort is a relatively new effort, she said, so it’s too soon to make definite forecasts. But the data so far, from the modeling group and others, show conditions returning to a more normal state this spring.

The next step for the model, she said, is to try to determine which individual species of phytoplankton will bloom where, based on nutrient amounts, temperatures and other factors — using satellites and other tools to determine which kind of microscopic plant is where.

“We rely on satellite data, but this will go one step further and give us even more information,” Rousseaux said.

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Mar 7 2016

S. California Fisheries Hit Hard By Warming Water

Squid have pretty much disappeared from Southern California in the last several months.

“Squid’s kind of our bread and butter. That’s what a lot of us make our payments and survive on,” said Corbin Hanson who fishes off the coast of Southern California.

”It’s extremely frustrating. It’s demoralizing to go out and not be able to catch anything,” Hanson said.

Hanson has not caught any squid for more than four months. Squid is one of California’s largest commercial fisheries, and much of it is exported to countries in Asia and the Mediterranean.

Oceanographer Andrew Leising with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries said unusually warm water is causing squid and other fish to move farther north. At a meeting at the Aquarium of the Pacific, scientists explained one cause of the warming waters is what they call “the blob.”

“During the, say, 30-year record, this event “the blob” stands out far beyond anything we’ve seen in that 30 years. And in terms of that total warmth of the water, it’s pretty much the warmest we’ve ever measured and over an extremely large volume of water,” Leising said.

At its warmest, “the blob” is 4 degrees Celsius above normal temperatures. While “the blob” warms the water’s surface layers, another weather phenomenon called “El Niño” is warming the deeper waters.

“We’re looking at a situation where we have two years of the blob warming the water. Now we’re going into El Niño warming the water, so we really have about three years solid of kind of these warm conditions that have been affecting the fisheries,” Leising said.

Oceanographers said while “the blob” is mostly gone, they don’t know if it will return. The National Weather Service’s Mark Jackson said there is a promising forecast for warm waters caused by El Niño.

“Those waters will cool through the summer, and it looks right now a very distinct possibility that we could be in a La Niña situation next winter,” Jackson added. “That’s where the waters in the eastern and central Pacific will actually cool below normal.”

Cooler waters next winter also mean good news for Corbin Hanson and his crew, but until then, they have to be frugal.

“There’s hardly anything spent on new equipment, new gear. We’re trying to get by and stop the bleeding this year,” he said.

Scientists said if there is a La Niña next winter, squid and other fish should return to Southern California.

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Feb 12 2016

Where is promised ‘Godzilla’ El Nino? Update says slimmer monster lying in wait

On the left, a satellite image from Jan. 23, 2016 of El Nino, vs. the latest image, on the right, of Feb. 4, 2016.

Southern Californians using newly purchased umbrellas as parasols and wearing sunscreen instead of rain slickers have been asking: Where is El Niño?

The answer from scientists, climatologists and weather forecasters is: Right here.

“No, it hasn’t gone away. It is still as strong as it ever was,” said Ken Clark, meteorologist with in Southern California.


With sunny skies and a week’s worth of summer-like weather spiking the mercury into the high 80s, how can that be true? Isn’t El Niño supposed to bring wet, stormy weather?

Be patient, says El Niño expert and climatologist Bill Patzert of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. It’s coming.

“A month from now you’ll be writing about the March Miracle or the April Apocalypse,” he said, responding to what he calls the media’s unquenchable thirst for colossal storms and massive mudslides, neither of which has happened as predicted for Southern California.

Even Josh Willis says that local rains are coming. He’s the JPL project scientist for oceanography satellite Jason-3, the newest sea-temperature and sea-level reading tool used by climatologists to identify the current El Niño as the largest ever.

“Don’t throw out that umbrella just yet,” he said Tuesday.

All three scientists say El Niño will perform, but its arrival into Southern California has been delayed. They’re expecting a conveyor belt of squalls to enter stage left in late February and continue through March, possibly into April. This is a month or so later than original predictions for heavy rains.

Patzert says sometimes El Niños take their sweet time.

“It is not unusual for El Niños, with regards to Southern California rain, to be slow starters,” Patzert explained. “When they hook up, they are fast and furious finishers.”

Also, in cases of El Niño, size matters. This one is too big — about 21/2 times the size of the continental United States — and is having trouble maneuvering. But new satellite data from Feb. 4 show the El Niño has shrunk nearly 40 percent since the last capture on Jan. 23, Patzert said. The El Niño has receded east of Hawaii, whereas last month’s image showed it west of the islands, he said.

“As this signal shrinks, the jet stream should pull farther south” tracking storms into Southern California, he said.

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, released its monthly El Niño forecast on Thursday. It predicts a 50 percent to 60 percent probability of above-average rainfall in Southern California for March and April, with only 40 percent to 50 percent for Central California and 30 percent to 40 percent for Northern California, said John Gottschalck, chief of the center’s operational prediction branch.

In short, it reiterated a prediction of El Niño-patterned weather for Southern California. Namely, weakened westward-blowing trade winds and a warming of the upper ocean in the central and eastern Pacific will alter the jet stream, pulling storms into the West Coast, much like what happened during the last El Niño in February and March 1998.

Another reason for El Niño’s slow start is its entanglement with a high-pressure system over Utah that brought dry, hot weather into Southern California over the past week and a half. More importantly, the high-pressure dome pushed the jet stream north, sending El Niño-fueled storms into Central and Northern California in January and the Pacific Northwest and western Canada in February. This has increased Sierra snowpack to 105 percent, a positive sign for breaking the drought.

Calling it a “short-term” phenomena, Clark says the high pressure has begun to fade, with the National Weather Service predicting “a slight chance” or rain on Thursday. However, serious rain is not expected until the end of the month. “There may be more stormy patterns as we get into the end of February and into March,” he said.

Of course, no one can say for sure what El Niño will do. But scientists are hardly reprimanding El Niño, Spanish for “the child.” They are giving it a second chance.

“The ball game is not over yet. We do have a lot of innings left in the game,” Gottschalck said. “ We still have March.”

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Jan 21 2016

2015 Was Hottest Year in Historical Record, Scientists Say

Clockwise from top left: A family sleeping on the roof of a house in New Delhi last May; people navigating a flooded street in a canoe in Arnold, Mo., on Dec. 31; tourists in a haze-shrouded Singapore last September; the drought-stricken Molatedi Dam in South Africa in November. Credit Clockwise from top left; Tsering Topgyal/Associated Press, Jeff Roberson/Associated Press, Edgar Su/Reuters, Stuart Graham/Associated Press

Scientists reported Wednesday that 2015 was the hottest year in the historical record by far, breaking a mark set only the year before — a burst of heat that has continued into the new year and is roiling weather patterns all over the world.

In the contiguous United States, the year was the second-warmest on record, punctuated by a December that was both the hottest and the wettest since record-keeping began. One result has been a wave of unusual winter floods coursing down the Mississippi River watershed.

Scientists started predicting a global temperature record months ago, in part because an El Niño weather pattern, one of the largest in a century, is releasing an immense amount of heat from the Pacific Ocean into the atmosphere. But the bulk of the record-setting heat, they say, is a consequence of the long-term planetary warming caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases.

“The whole system is warming up, relentlessly,” said Gerald A. Meehl, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

It will take a few more years to know for certain, but the back-to-back records of 2014 and 2015 may have put the world back onto a trajectory of rapid global warming, after a period of relatively slow warming dating to the last powerful El Niño, in 1998.

Politicians attempting to claim that greenhouse gases are not a problem seized on that slow period to argue that “global warming stopped in 1998,” with these claims and similar statements reappearing recently on the Republican presidential campaign trail.

Statistical analysis suggested all along that the claims were false, and that the slowdown was, at most, a minor blip in an inexorable trend, perhaps caused by a temporary increase in the absorption of heat by the Pacific Ocean.

“Is there any evidence for a pause in the long-term global warming rate?” said Gavin A. Schmidt, head of NASA’s climate-science unit, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in Manhattan. “The answer is no. That was true before last year, but it’s much more obvious now.”


The Hottest Year on Record

Globally, 2015 was the warmest year in recorded history.

How far above or below average temperatures were in 2015 Compared with the average from 1901 to 2000

Average global surface air temperatures Compared with the average from 1901 to 2000

Michael E. Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, calculated that if the global climate were not warming, the odds of setting two back-to-back record years would be remote, about one chance in every 1,500 pairs of years. Given the reality that the planet is warming, the odds become far higher, about one chance in 10, according to Dr. Mann’s calculations.

Two American government agencies — NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — compile separate analyses of the global temperature, based upon thousands of measurements from weather stations, ships and ocean buoys scattered around the world. Meteorological agencies in Britain and Japan do so, as well. The agencies follow slightly different methods to cope with problems in the data, but obtain similar results.

The American agencies released figures on Wednesday showing that 2015 was the warmest year in a global record that began, in their data, in 1880. British scientists released figures showing 2015 as the warmest in a record dating to 1850. The Japan Meteorological Agency had already released preliminary results showing 2015 as the warmest year in a record beginning in 1891.

On Jan. 7, NOAA reported that 2015 was the second-warmest year on record, after 2012, for the lower 48 United States. That land mass covers less than 2 percent of the surface of the Earth, so it is not unusual to have a slight divergence between United States temperatures and those of the planet as a whole.

The end of the year was especially remarkable in the United States, with virtually every state east of the Mississippi River having a record warm December, often accompanied by heavy rains.

A warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor, and an intensification of rainstorms was one of the fundamental predictions made by climate scientists decades ago as a consequence of human emissions. That prediction has come to pass, with the rains growing more intense across every region of the United States, but especially so in the East.

The term global warming is generally taken to refer to the temperature trend at the surface of the planet, and those are the figures reported by the agencies on Wednesday.

Some additional measurements, of shorter duration, are available for the ocean depths and the atmosphere above the surface, both generally showing an inexorable long-term warming trend.

Most satellite measurements of the lower and middle layers of the atmosphere show 2015 to have been the third- or fourth-warmest year in a 37-year record, and scientists said it was slightly surprising that the huge El Niño had not produced a greater warming there. They added that this could yet happen in 2016.

When temperatures are averaged at a global scale, the differences between years are usually measured in fractions of a degree. In the NOAA data set, 2015 was 0.29 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than 2014, the largest jump ever over a previous record. NASA calculated a slightly smaller figure, but still described it as an unusual one-year increase.

The intense warmth of 2015 contributed to a heat wave in India last spring that turns out to have been the second-worst in that country’s history, killing an estimated 2,500 people. The long-term global warming trend has exacted a severe toll from extreme heat, with eight of the world’s 10 deadliest heat waves occurring since 1997.

Only rough estimates of heat deaths are available, but according to figures from the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, in Brussels, the toll over the past two decades is approaching 140,000 people, with most of those deaths occurring during a European heat wave in 2003 and a Russian heat wave in 2010.

The strong El Niño has continued into 2016, raising the possibility that this year will, yet again, set a global temperature record. The El Niño pattern is also disturbing the circulation of the atmosphere, contributing to worldwide weather extremes that include a drought in southern Africa, threatening the food supply of millions.

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Jan 19 2016

El Niño is here, so where’s SoCal’s non-stop rain?

So far in terms of rainfall, this winter’s El Niño weather pattern has been more of a gecko than a Godzilla.

Southern California, which usually sees the bulk of the state’s El Niño-related storms, only experienced a few wet days in the first half of January. Overall, precipitation in Los Angeles and the rest of California is several inches behind where it was at this time during the last big El Niño in 1998.

graph1(Recent rainfall totals for California as of January 15th (in black) compared with rainfall from the five strongest El Niño systems on record. Image: California-Nevada Climate Applications Program / NOAA.)


Still, scientists are telling us this El Niño is one of the strongest ever recorded. So what gives?

Well, first off, it’s still early in the game, said Anthony Barnston, Chief Forecaster for Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society.

“California typically shows its greatest responses to El Niño during January-March, rather than the earlier part of the winter,” he noted.

In short, there is still plenty of time for a good soaking.

That’s welcome news since much of the state is still below where it typically would be for an average water year.

Nate Mantua with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said there may be another factor worth considering.

Sure, this El Niño is strong when it comes to some key indicators like record warm surface temperatures in a swath of the Pacific associated with the weather pattern.

But Mantua noted that it is weaker in other climate signals, like the strength of the trade winds or the temperature of the ocean below the surface.

“It has a lot of the same characteristics as big El Niños of the past, but it also has some differences that may end up leading to different outcomes for what it does to weather in California and along the whole pacific coast,” he explained.

For example, he says the Pacific Northwest is getting a lot of heavy rain this winter, which isn’t typical for strong El Niño years.

So, expect surprises from this climate pattern.

map(This map shows the amount of rain in CA for this water year which starts on October 1st and ends on September 30th. Yellow and orange areas are below average precipitation and blues and purples are above average. Image via NOAA.)


Recent observations of the El Niño signal have noted that it seems to be weakening, as is often the case by this point in the winter.

That shouldn’t stop it from sending storms our way through the spring, though, Mantua said.

By summer, it’s likely the El Niño pattern will have completely disappeared, and scientists will start watching the signals again to see if it will return or if the world will see a neutral or La Niña pattern instead.

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Jan 5 2016

A steady conveyor belt of El Niño storms is what has officials concerned

la-me-el-nino-storms-pictures-20160104-044Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times  San Dimas Public Works Supervisor Terry Gregory cleears a clogged drain from North San Dimas Canyon Road as heavy rains cause clogged drains and mud flows in San Dimas, Glendora and Azusa.


To understand the power and potential dangers of El Niño, look at satellite images of the Pacific Ocean on Sunday.

At least four storms were brewing — the farthest still getting going in Asia — and all aimed at California.

It’s this pattern, a series of back-to-back-to-back storms seemingly arriving on a conveyor belt, that concerns officials bracing for potential damage from the predicted winter of heavy rains.

“El Niño storms: it’s steady, not spectacular. But it’s relentless,” said Bill Patzert, climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. “It’s not 10 inches in 24 hours and nothing afterward. It’s a 1-inch storm, a 2-inch storm, followed by a 1-inch storm, followed by a 2-inch storm.

“As this goes on for many weeks, then you start to soak the hillsides — then you get more instability. And then, instead of having 6 inches of mud running down your street or off the hillside behind your house, then you can get serious mudflows — 2 to 3 feet in height.”

This week was the first that the weather pattern associated with El Niño has formed over California this season. A first system Monday didn’t amount to much after it ran into dry air out of the mountains, but three more storms are targeting California on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Patzert said.

“The next systems seem primed to deliver at least a couple good punches Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by plenty of showers Thursday,” the National Weather Service in Oxnard said in its forecast.

The riskiest areas for this week are areas recently burned by wildfires, such as the Camarillo Springs community in Ventura County, Silverado Canyon in Orange County, and the communities near the Christmas weekend brush fire that burned north of Ventura. Officials are concerned about flash floods in those areas, and a voluntary evacuation advisory is planned for Silverado Canyon, which is recovering from a fire in 2014.

But the worst problems will probably come later in the winter. “This is the first major line of storms. The ground isn’t quite saturated yet,” said meteorologist James Thomas of the National Weather Service in San Diego.

It’s later in the winter that the risk heightens; in Southern California, that’s particularly in neighborhoods and roads below arroyos and canyons and along the beach.

“That’s called, ‘The price you pay with the view,'” Patzert said.

Still, Patzert said, Southern California isn’t expected to encounter the same kind of widespread regional flooding that has hit the South in recent weeks. Although such devastating flooding occurred earlier in the 20th century, the transformation of the Los Angeles, San Gabriel and Santa Ana rivers into concrete-lined flood control channels has protected the region for generations.

Besides this El Niño, there are only two similarly strong El Niños in the record books over the last half-century.

The 1982-83 El Niño caused more than $500 million in property damage in California, which is equivalent to more than $1 billion in today’s dollars, and unleashed flooding and sent mud and rock raining over canyon and coastal roads, destroying the Seal Beach Pier and severely damaging the Santa Monica Pier.

The El Niño of 1997-98 also caused more than $500 million in damage, and 17 people died during those storms. In February 1998, 13.68 inches of rain poured down on Los Angeles — almost a year’s worth of precipitation. That month, two California Highway Patrol officers died in San Luis Obispo County after their car fell into a massive sinkhole as a river eroded a highway; two Pomona College students were killed when a tree slammed into their SUV; and mud pummeled homes in Laguna Beach, crushing homes and killing two men.

The arrival of the El Niño-influenced weather pattern in California comes just as expected, when El Niño’s influence on California weather peaks in January, February and March. A subtropical jet stream that’s normally not well-defined has emerged as a strong force over California. And “when the jet stream is stronger and closer, the storms can maintain their strength or get stronger as they approach California,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at Stanford University, said in an interview.

The back-to-back storms means a week not seen since December 2010, the last time a weeklong series of weather systems had a significant effect on Southern California, said Thomas, the San Diego meteorologist. The National Weather Service estimates as much as 2 to 3 inches of rain will fall along the coast of Los Angeles and Orange counties through Thursday — a decent amount, given that the average rainfall for all of January in downtown Los Angeles is about 3 inches.

Through Thursday night, there could be 2 to 4 feet of fresh snow in the San Bernardino Mountains at elevations above 7,000 feet, where Big Bear Lake is. “So that’s significant,” Thomas said. He warned of areas of near zero visibility because of blowing snow from Tuesday afternoon through Thursday night, and gusts of up to 50 mph. “So it’ll be a mess up there.”

Tuesday is expected to be the heaviest storm day for officials monitoring the Solimar fire burn area north of Ventura, which charred more than 1,200 acres over Christmas weekend. Vegetation, once burned, can no longer hold back loose sediment, and officials are worried about mud and debris crashing onto Solimar Beach communities, Pacific Coast Highway and sections of the 101 Freeway all the way up to the Sea Cliff area.

Even half an inch of rain in an hour could create a debris flow in these burn areas, said Gil Zavlodaver of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services.

Steven Frasher, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, cautioned residents and the homeless to stay out of flood control channels such as the L.A. River and Sepulveda Dam that, in dry times, are popular recreational areas.

“They’re incredibly dangerous,” Frasher said.

“It seems that every time something like this comes through, someone underestimates the power of how much water goes through there,” Frasher said. “This is not the time to use the recreational trails. Certainly don’t go anywhere near rushing water. If you see water on the roadways, don’t go through it. It’s often faster or deeper than you think it is. Not to mention running into debris and stuff like that.”

Officials encourage residents to sign up for emergency alerts and learn more about storm preparation by visiting websites such as and for Los Angeles County residents, for Ventura County, for Orange County, for San Diego County and for San Bernardino County.

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Dec 18 2015

Rep. Janice Hahn calls for $10 million in federal funding for breakwater repairs ahead of El Niño

The sun sets behind the Angels Gate Light during a harbor cruise off San Pedro on Aug. 6, 2015. The San Pedro breakwater extends left from the lighthouse to Cabrillo Beach. (Scott Varley / Staff Photographer)


Rep. Janice Hahn is calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fund $10 million for repairs to the San Pedro breakwater to safeguard the harbor and portside community against potential harm from upcoming El Niño storms.

Hahn, who represents the 44th Congressional District based in the Harbor Area, announced a plea for immediate repairs Thursday after the Army Corps reported finding four major and 12 significant damage areas along the more than century-old stone breakwater, though corps engineers have “a high degree of confidence” it will hold up to heavy storms predicted to begin in January.

Hahn had asked the corps for an assessment of the breakwater after officials gave several members of Congress from California a briefing on El Niño preparations last week.

She penned a letter Thursday to Army Corps of Engineers Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy calling for the funding to be made available so repairs can proceed on the breakwater, which stretches from Cabrillo Beach to the Angels Gate Lighthouse.

“This El Niño season could bring unprecedented storms to California and we have to be prepared,” Hahn said in a statement. “The significant damage to the San Pedro breakwater needs to be repaired as soon as possible.”

She inquired about the status of the breakwater out of concern that El Niño could create breaches like those in the neighboring Middle Breakwater caused by Hurricane Marie last year, spokeswoman Elizabeth Odendahl said.

Army Corps spokesman Greg Fuderer said emergency repairs to that breakwater cost about $5 million. Less critical work on the Middle and Long Beach breakwaters cost an additional $9.25 million.

The San Pedro breakwater likely incurred some of its damage during the same storm in the summer of 2014, he said. Heavy waves from the hurricane pounded all three breakwaters, dislodging stones in some places.

Though Hahn is asking for $10 million, Fuderer said a project manager has estimated the repair cost to be about $7 million.

“The Port of Los Angeles is part of the busiest port complex in the nation and any disruption in cargo movement could be disastrous for the local as well as the national economy,” Hahn said. “As we prepare for El Niño storms, we cannot risk allowing any damage to the protective breakwater to go unaddressed.”

Rep. Janice Hahn

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