Scientists hope to find weather clues |

Scientists hope to find weather clues

Susan Wood

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration crew of scientists will embark upon an unprecedented journey Wednesday from San Diego to the South Pacific, where the secrets of the next El Nino may lie.

The 25 oceanographers and physicists will head to the equator off the shores of the Galapagos Islands on board the Ronald H. Brown, a weather research boat named after the late U.S. Commerce director.

The 32-day journey will produce readings from the buoy network and sensor drops called radiosondes that will give ocean temperature, atmospheric pressure, humidity, wind and ozone concentrations, among other barometers of weather factors. The scientists also hope to get the data necessary to gauge the ocean’s rate of evaporation.

Its assignment goal: to establish the computer models that will help make better predictions of weather – including oceanic phenomenons.

El Ninos, which traditionally bring on more precipitation to the Sierra Nevada, originate off the shores of South America in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. They usually contribute to a better seasonal snowpack.

Scientists have found the tropical weather conditions difficult to determine their timing and impact.

“There’s a transition in El Nino behavior, starting five to seven years ago that caught everybody with their pants down,” the NOAA’s project chief scientist Chris Fairall said from his Boulder, Colo., office last week.

The physicist, along with several other scientists, have noticed El Ninos’ two- to seven-year cycles shrinking in half. They’ve also stayed longer and are immediately followed by La Nina, marked by cold water masses.

NOAA’s 274-foot flagship vessel, equipped with the advanced Doppler weather radar, will be joined by two research aircraft staged in Mexico.

A lot of progress has been made scientifically in the last 15 years to get to the core of El Ninos, but more work needs to be done to isolate what the physical framework of the phenomenons are, Fairall insisted.

Regional climatologists believe there’s a good chance another El Nino is building in the South Pacific, bringing more-than-normal precipitation in the Sierra Nevada.

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