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El Niño: Resources for Journalists

Thick smoke from El Nino-related fires shrouds the Indonesian islands of Sumatra (left) and Kalimantan (right), September 2015. (NASA)
Thick smoke from El Nino-related fires shrouds the Indonesian islands of Sumatra (left) and Kalimantan (right), September 2015. Image: NASA

El Niño is earth’s most powerful climate cycle, influencing weather and affecting crops, water supplies and public health globally. What may be the strongest El Niño ever measured is now getting underway, and is already affecting parts of the world.

Many leading El Niño authorities are at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. They include scientists who helped form the modern understanding of El Niño; who make the official U.S. monthly global and regional El Niño forecasts; who study the deep history and future of El Niño; and who are working across the world to help nations take practical measures to cope with El Niño-related weather.

Below, a guide to people and resources at our International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) and other centers. NOTE: In conjunction with the World Meteorological Organization and others, IRI will host a Nov. 17-18 El Niño international conference in Palisades, N.Y. Press wishing to attend, please contact Francesco Fiondella. Parts of the event will be livestreamed.



The Latest Forecast

El Niño/Southern Oscillation Resources

The Essentials: An El Niño Primer

Map: How El Niño can affect global rainfall patterns

El Niño Is Driving Civil Wars, Says Study



Tony Barnston is IRI’s chief forecaster, responsible for monthly and seasonal El Niño forecasts in concert with the U.S. government and World Meteorological Organization.

Simon Mason is chief climate scientist, working globally with governments to apply IRI’s forecasts to practical issues including preparation for natural disasters.

Andrew Robertson is head of IRI’s Climate Group, and studies regional climate variability, predictability and change, at both short and long timescales.

Lisa Goddard is director-general of the IRI, working on a broad variety of El Niño-related issues.

James Hansen and Walter Baethgen study agricultural effects of El Niño and other climate cycles, and advise governments on how to deal with them.

Madeleine Thomson studies health effects of El Niño and other climate cycles, and advises governments how to deal with them.



Richard Seager is a climate modeler who studies how El Niño and other cycles affect rainfall, and how cycles may shift as the world warms, especially in the U.S. West.

Adam Sobel is an atmospheric scientist specializing in extreme weather, and can address how El Niño might affect the United States, especially in the East.

Mingfang Ting and Alexey Kaplan are climate modelers who study the global history of El Niño through historical records and natural proxies, and how its patterns may shift in the future.

Suzana Camargo is a climate modeler who studies how El Niño influences cyclones and other violent weather worldwide.

Mark Cane is an oceanographer who co-designed the first model to successfully predict El Niño, in the 1990s; also, coauthor of research linking warfare with El Niño.

Xiaojun Yuan  is a polar scientist who studies land-sea-ice interactions, particularly in relation to El Niño and related climate cycles that connect the poles with the mid-latitudes.



Marc Levy is a political scientist at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network, which studies interactions between people and natural systems.

Upmanu Lall directs the Columbia Water Center, which studies practical questions of freshwater supply and flooding, and their relation to weather cycles.

Shiv Someshwar is director of climate policy at the Center for Sustainable Development. He advises governments worldwide on adapting to El Niño and other medium-term climate shifts.



  • El Niño comes every 2-7 years. Winds over the tropical Pacific Ocean abate, and the sea surface warms. The current cycle started this spring, and will probably peak this winter before subsiding in spring 2016. It will likely rank among the top events ever recorded.
  • El Niño dramatically reshapes precipitation and temperature over much of Asia, the Americas and Africa. Effects vary by region.
  • Indonesia is already suffering giant wildfires and resulting deadly haze due to El Niño-related dry weather.
  • El Niño may bring needed rain to the U.S. West, but also torrential rains and mudslides. Areas of the U.S. East may see an unusually warm winter. Parts of Asia, South America and Africa could become drier, compromising food production. Weather shifts in eastern Africa could bring disease outbreaks.
  • A recent Earth Institute study suggests that civil wars are more likely to start or worsen during the disruptive weather of El Niño.
  • Mainly due to human carbon emissions, 2015 will probably be the warmest year ever recorded; El Niño will add even more heat in 2015 and 2016.


Columbia campus skyline with text Columbia Climate School Class Day 2024 - Congratulations Graduates

Congratulations to our Columbia Climate School MA in Climate & Society Class of 2024! Learn about our May 10 Class Day celebration. #ColumbiaClimate2024

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