Our Affair with El Nino: How We Transformed an Enchanting Peruvian Current Into a Global Climate Hazard

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Princeton University Press, 2006 - Nature - 275 pages
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Until 1997, few people had heard of the seasonal current that Peruvians nicknamed El Niņo. But when meteorologists linked it to devastating floods in California, severe droughts in Indonesia, and strange weather everywhere, its name became entrenched in the common parlance faster than a typhoon making landfall. Bumper stickers appeared bearing the phrase "Don't blame me; blame El Niņo." Stockbrokers muttered "El Niņo" when the market became erratic.


What's behind this fascinating natural phenomenon, and how did our perceptions of it change? In this captivating book, renowned oceanographer George Philander engages readers in lucid and stimulating discussions of the scientific, political, economic and cultural developments that shaped our perceptions of this force of nature.


The book begins by outlining the history of El Niņo, an innocuous current that appears off the coast of Peru around Christmastime--its name refers to the Child Jesus--and originally was welcomed as a blessing. It goes on to explore how our perceptions of El Niņo were transformed, not because the phenomenon changed, but because we did. Philander argues persuasively that familiarity with the different facets of our affair with El Niņo--our wealth of experience in dealing with natural hazards such as severe storms and prolonged droughts--can help us cope with an urgent and controversial environmental problem of our own making--global warming.


Intellectually invigorating and a joy to read, Our Affair with El Niņo is an important contribution to the debate about the relationship between scientific knowledge and public affairs.


  

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Contents

Assessing Our Affair as It Approaches a Critical Juncture
1
WHO IS EL NINO
9
A Mercurial Character
11
A Fallen Angel?
28
A Construct of Ours
34
A Matchmaker
40
OUR DILEMMA
63
Two Incompatible Cultures
65
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SCIENCE
159
Predicting the Weather
161
Investigating the Atmospheric Circulation
177
Exploring the Oceans
189
Reconciling Divergent Perspectives on El Nino
213
Taking a LongTerm Geological View
227
COPING WITH HAZARDS
235
Famines in India
237

Small Science versus Big Science
81
COMMON GROUND
91
The Perspective of a Painter
93
The Perspective of a Poet
118
The Perspective of a Musician
129
A Marriage of the Hard and Soft Sciences
139
The Cloud
151
Fisheries of Peru
240
Droughts in Zimbabwe
244
Becoming Custodians of Planet Earth
251
NOTES AND REFERENCES
259
INDEX
273
Copyright

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About the author (2006)

S. George Philander, Knox Taylor Professor of Geosciences at Princeton University and Research Director of ACCESS (African Centre for Climate and Earth System Science) in Cape Town, South Africa, has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Cape Town and a Ph.D. (Applied Mathematics) from Harvard University. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Meteorological Society. Dr. Philander's research interests include the oceanic circulation, interactions between the ocean and atmosphere that result in phenomena such as El Nino and La Nina, paleoclimates (including the recurrent Ice Ages of the past three million years), and future global climate changes. His two books for laypersons, Is the Temperature Rising? The Uncertain Science of Global Warming and Our Affair With El Nino: How We Transformed an Enchanting Peruvian Current Into a Global Climate Hazard, reflect his keen interest in improving communications between scientists and laymen. The goal of the African climate center, which Dr. Philander is currently directing, is to give Africa its own voice on environmental issues such as global warming.

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