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
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
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 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.