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Local Disruption or Global Condition?: El Niño as Weather and as Climate Phenomenon
Philosophy and History, KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Philosophy and History of Technology, History of Science, Technology and Environment.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-0866-0487
2017 (English)In: GEO Geography and Environment, ISSN 2054-4049, Vol. 4, no 1, 1-11 p., 2017Article in journal (Refereed) Epub ahead of print
Abstract [en]

El Niño denotes a periodical warm water stream in the Pacific Ocean. But who knew about this phenomenon, where and how? El Niño ‘the boy’ emerged as a fabric of local experiences and stories of extreme weather events: tropical winter storms, floods, droughts and famines in the coastal states of South America, Indonesia and Southeast Asia. In the Northern Hemisphere this rich cultural history went largely unnoticed. Only in the 1980s and 1990s did El Niño acquire global recognition as an effect of the oceanic and atmospheric currents in the tropical Pacific region. As the oceans moved from a marginal to a central position in the discourse on the Earth’s climate cycles, ENSO – the ‘El Niño Southern Oscillation’ – became part of a global climate pattern. This paper explores El Niño ‘the boy’ and ENSO El Niño Southern Oscillation as juxtaposed and superposed environmental perceptions. While El Niño the boy conveyed horrific weather experiences on the human scale, ENSO became known through terrific scientific views of Earth from space. Earth observation by remote sensing satellites collected vast arrays of local measurements into new data fabrics. Studying the case of the US–French orbital satellite mission of TOPEX/Poseidon, this paper examines both the imagery from satellite data and the forecasting effortspreceding the strong El Niño winter of 1997–8. From the data and image sets of remote sensing satellites, recurring local disruptions emerged as a periodic global climate condition. Local experiences of El Niño and scientific perceptions of ENSO as a global climate cycle did not translate easily into each other. The paper discusses some of the epistemological tensions across spatial scales. While El Niño’s shift from exception to regularity fed into the framing of ‘climate change’ as a global disaster, the emerging ENSO regime obscured disaster locally.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
John Wiley & Sons, 2017. Vol. 4, no 1, 1-11 p., 2017
Keyword [en]
satellite remote sensing; environmental imagery; satellite oceanography; TOPEX/Poseidon; NASA; ENSO
National Category
History of Technology History Other Humanities not elsewhere specified
Research subject
History of Science, Technology and Environment
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-204628DOI: 10.1002/geo2.34ISI: 000396352700001OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-204628DiVA: diva2:1085712
Projects
Views from a Distance: Remote Sensing Technologies and the Perception of the Earth
Funder
Swedish Research Council, 2012-1134
Note

QC 20170412

Available from: 2017-03-30 Created: 2017-03-30 Last updated: 2017-04-12Bibliographically approved

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CiteExportLink to record
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Citation style
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