Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network
Monitoring Project

California El Niños

Principal Investigator(s)

  • Frank Schwing
    Pacific Fisheries Environmental Laboratory
  • Steven Bograd
    Pacific Fisheries Environmental Laboratory
Start Date: January 01, 1991

Unusual physical and ecological conditions in the California Current differ during individual El Niño and La Niña events. The project compares large-scale forcing associated with tropical El Niño and La Niña events, to describe and understand differences in the west coast response to these events.

Summary to Date

Conditions in the California Current during El Niño events are a combination of regional wind forcing in the northeast Pacific and ocean waves generated in the tropics. The relative importance of each of these factors, and their evolution during the course of an El Niño event, determines the overall timing and strength of each event's signature in the California Current and MBNMS.

Monitoring Trends

  • Much of the signature of individual El Niño and La Niña events in the California Current is due to variations in regional wind conditions that may or may not be linked to tropical ENSO variations.
  • The physical character of individual El Niño events affects the type of species movements and exotic sightings in the MBNMS. Some (e.g., 1983) are conducive to unusual coastal species; others (e.g., 1997) to larger pelagics.
  • From historical data records, we have identified three distinct type of El Niño events in the California Current.
  • El Nino and La Niña interact with strong multi-decadal climate shifts in the north Pacific to modulate or enhance individual El Niños and La Niñas.

Study Parameters

  • Temperature
  • Upwelling/downwelling