Vol. 4, No. 1  October 1998

Editor's Corner

book review



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Book review...

Currents of Change: El Niño's impact on climate and society.

Michael H. Glantz. xiii+94pp; Cambridge University Press. 1996 price : 883 Baht (in Thailand)

If you picked up your morning paper this year, the chances were that your eye would fall on news of yet another climate disaster attributed to El Niño. The recent 1997-98 event established this phenomenon in the public mind as never before so that almost overnight, it seems, El Niño became the culprit at whose feet every weather anomaly worldwide could be laid. But it was the 1982-83 episode that led a broad spectrum of the scientific community to take a serious interest in forecasting El Niño, its adverse impacts being at more than US$8 billion during those years.

Michael Glantz's book appeared between these two events and covers both physical and social science aspects that are now the focus of so much attention and concern. As the author tells us, in Peru and Ecuador at least, El Niño was a recognized annual fact of life as much as a hundred years ago, and possibly for centuries before that. In most years it was of only local interest for its effect on fisheries. the realization that in some years it is much more than a purely local phenomenon grew slowly, its linkages or teleconnections to global climate anomalies emerging only gradually. In the first of the three main sections of his book, Glantz, himself a social scientist, traces this development and grapples bravely with the problems of making a highly complex ocean-atmosphere process accessible to the non-specialist.

The second section introduces the reader, via the Walker Circulation, to some of the behavioral variation in time and space of El Niño as a prelude to a detailed account of the 1982-83 event and its inconsistencies. Forecast successes and failures are then given attention; the Ethiopian example of how agricultural practices can be successfully modified as a consequence of an El Niño prediction is particularly impressive.

The teleconnections associated with the 1991-92 event are next illustrated by a series of climate impact maps, whilst an account of the methods used to identify El Niño follows. As might be expected, the importance of satellite data over the oceans and the development of computer models is accented.

International activities devoted to El Niño from the 1950s on are reviewed in the final section of the book showing the imposing resources now allotted to the subject. The recent ADPC/NOAA/OFDA Asian Regional Meeting on El Niño Related Crises amply confirmed the striking growth in such activities. The author places in context the reasons for which further research to unlock the secrets of El Niño is vital to many nations around the world; he is also persuasive in pressing for the media to act responsibly in conveying the scientistŐs message to the public.

The volume is attractively produced, with many maps and diagrams to assist the reader's understanding of El Niño. It is a timely and welcome addition to the literature of a widely misunderstood climate phenomenon.

Peter Rogers

Peter Rogers spent most of his professional career in the Secretariat of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) where, from 1967 until 1984, he was principally responsible for the WMO Tropical Cyclone Programme. He is now the Honorary Technical Adviser to the Technical Support Unit of the WMO/ESCAP Panel on Tropical Cyclones and is based in Bangkok.

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