El Niño events are characterized by surface warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean and weakening of equatorial trade winds that occur every few years. Such conditions are accompanied by changes in atmospheric and oceanic circulation, affecting global climate, marine and terrestrial ecosystems, fisheries and human activities. The alternation of warm El Niño and cold La Niña conditions, referred to as the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), represents the strongest year-to-year fluctuation of the global climate system. Here we provide a synopsis of our current understanding of the spatio-temporal complexity of this important climate mode and its influence on the Earth system.
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Acknowledgements A.T., K.S., K.-S.Y. and E.Z. were supported by the Institute for Basic Science (project code IBS-R028-D1). B.D. was funded by Fondecyt (grant 1151185). S.-I.A. was supported by the Basic Science Research Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2017R1A2A2A05069383). J.-S.K. was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2017R1A2B3011511). F.-F.J.’s contribution was sponsored through the US NSF Grant AGS-1406601 and the US Department of Energy Grant DE-SC0005110. T.B. receives funding from SFB 754, project ‘Climate–Biochemistry Interactions in the tropical Ocean’. M.J.M. is supported by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). H.-L.R. is supported by the China Meteorological Special Research Project (grant number GYHY201506013). S.I. was supported by the UK–China Research & Innovation Partnership Fund through the Met Office Climate Science for Service Partnership (CSSP) China as part of the Newton Fund. M.F.S. acknowledges support from the NOAA Climate and Global Change Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, administered by UCAR’s Cooperative Programs for the Advancement of Earth System Sciences (CPAESS). H.R. was partly funded by the National Environmental Science Program, Australia. This is PMEL contribution number 4723. The authors thank the TAO Project Office of NOAA/PMEL for providing the TAO/TRITON 20 °C isotherm depth anomaly data shown in Fig. 5.
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