Encyclopedia of Marine Geosciences

Living Edition
| Editors: Jan Harff, Martin Meschede, Sven Petersen, Jörn Thiede

El Niño (Southern Oscillation)

  • Janina Körper
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-6644-0_161-1



La Niña

The term El Niño (Spanish for “the Child Christ”) was initially used by Peruvian fishermen to describe a warm-water current that periodically flows along the coast of Ecuador and Perú about Christmas time. It is an oscillation associated with the unusually large basin-wide warmings of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean that occur every few years (about 2–7 years) and change the local and regional ecology and have global impacts. The oceanic event is connected to the atmospheric component termed “Southern Oscillation.” The coupled atmosphere-ocean phenomenon is collectively known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). While El Niño refers to the warm phase of ENSO, La Niña (Spanish for “the girl”) refers to the cold phase of ENSO. See Trenberth (1997) for a review on definitions of El Niño.

An initial positive sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly intensifies due to a positive feedback first hypothesized by...


Cold Tongue Tropical Pacific Ocean Equatorial Upwelling Equatorial Westerly Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Bjerknes, J., 1969. Atmospheric teleconnections from the equatorial pacific. Monthly Weather Review, 97, 163–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Trenberth, K. E., 1997. The definition of El Niño. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 78, 2771–2777.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Wang, C., and Picaut, J., 2004. Understanding ENSO physics – a review. In Wang, C., Xie, S. P., and Carton, J. A. (eds.), Earth’s Climate: The Ocean-Atmosphere Interaction. Washington, DC: AGU, pp. 21–48.Google Scholar
  4. Wang, C., Deser, C., Yu, J.-Y., DiNezio, P., Clement, A., 2012. El Niño and Southern Oscillation (ENSO): a review. In Glymn, P., Manzello, D., Enochs, I. (eds.), Coral Reefs of the Eastern Pacific. Springer.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of MeteorologyFreie Universität BerlinBerlinGermany