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WATER WORLD
What is El Nino Taimasa?
by Staff Writers
Manoa HI (SPX) Feb 26, 2014


This shows flat-top Porites coral on a shallow reef near American Samoa. Coral heads are fully submerged under normal conditions. During El Nino Taimasa, tops of large flat coral on the reef are exposed to air at low tide. Image courtesy of the National Park of American Samoa.

During very strong El Nino events, sea level drops abruptly in the tropical western Pacific and tides remain below normal for up to a year in the South Pacific, especially around Samoa. The Samoans call the wet stench of coral die-offs arising from the low sea levels "taimasa" (pronounced [kai' ma'sa]). Studying the climate effects of this particular variation of El Nino and how it may change in the future is a team of scientists at the International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawai'i at Manoa and at the University of New South Wales, Australia.

Two El Nino Taimasa events have occurred in recent history: 1982/83 and 1997/98. El Nino Taimasa differs from other strong El Nino events, such as those in 1986/87 and 2009/10, according to Matthew Widlansky, postdoctoral fellow at the International Pacific Research Center, who spearheaded the study.

"We noticed from tide gauge measurements that toward the end of these very strong El Nino events, when sea levels around Guam quickly returned to normal, that tide gauges near Samoa actually continued to drop," recalls Widlansky.

During such strong El Nino, moreover, the summer rain band over Samoa, called the South Pacific Convergence Zone, collapses toward the equator. These shifts in rainfall cause droughts south of Samoa and sometimes trigger more tropical cyclones to the east near Tahiti.

Using statistical procedures to tease apart the causes of the sea-level seesaw between the North and South Pacific, the scientists found that it is associated with the well-known southward shift of weak trade winds during the termination of El Nino, which in turn is associated with the development of the summer rain band.

Looking into the future with the help of computer climate models, the scientists are now studying how El Nino Taimasa will change with further warming of the planet. Their analyses show, moreover, that sea-level drops could be predictable seasons ahead, which may help island communities prepare for the next El Nino Taimasa.

Projections Of Extreme Sea Level Variability Due To El NiNo Taimasa, Oral presentation Session #:079 Rising Sea Level: Contributions and Future Projections; Date: 2/26/2014; Time: 12:00; Location: 313 B; Publication Citation: Widlansky, M.J., A. Timmermann, S. McGregor, M.F. Stuecker, and W. Cai, 2014: An interhemispheric tropical sea level seesaw due to El Nino Taimasa. J. Climate, 27 (3), 1070-1081, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-13-00276.1.

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