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Introduction to Physical Oceanography
Homework Set 8
Due 19 November 2008

Late homework will cost 15 points per week or part of a week it is late.


Assume you are working for a consulting company that is preparing an environmental report for a oil company. The report must describe the environmental conditions to be expected in the Gulf of Carpentaria north of Australia in January 2008. The company wants to begin exploratory drilling that month. The report is due on 19 November.

Your boss comes to you at 8:00 AM on 17 November in a panic. She says the report is nearly complete, but she has just heard that an El Niño can cause the actual environmental conditions in the gulf to differ from the normal conditions described in the report. She needs a two-page memo plus figures by noon that can convince her that January 2009 will be normal in the Pacific so she can issue the environmental report on schedule. Can you assure her, by noon, that January 2009 will be normal? Or can you convince her that conditions will be very different from normal, and that her report must be revised? If conditions will not be normal, what conditions relevant to drilling operations are expected. Assume your boss knows very little about weather and climate, and that she needs to get an accurate, useful report out the door on schedule, not statements that more research is needed.

You immediately call in a couple of your associates and you begin work. To save time, you decide to consult the web sources listed below. You also decide that you ought to consider answers to the questions below in writing the memo. Of course, your report will not be in question and answer form, after all, you are professionals and know how to write a consultant's report.

Your boss has asked Prof. Stewart to grade your work. In doing so, he will consider the accuracy of your sources, the soundness of your reasoning, and the clarity of your writing.

  1. Does El Niño influence the area? After all, if it doesn't, then there is no problem.
  2. What conditions define El Niño? After all, how can you determine if El Niño is not happening now if you don't know what an El Niños is? You can find descriptions of El Niño on the web. See, for example, the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle El Niño Theme Page which has links to information about El Niño, influence of El Niño on global and North American weather patterns, recent observations in the Pacific, and forecasts.
  3. What are the present conditions in the Pacific? To help answer this question, you may wish to look at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's World Wide Web pages, especially the pages maintained by the Climate Analysis Center, who publish the Climate Diagnostics Bulletin. Check especially the highlights. The Climate Diagnostics Bulletin does not have the latest information, so you may also wish to look at the TOGA/TAO data set which is updated every five days. Check especially the TAO Real-Time Data Display (click on the image of winds and temperature on the TOGA/TAO web page for a zoom). You may also want to look at the Climate Prediction Center's El Niño Diagnostics Page and the French El Niño Bulletin with satellite data. In understanding present conditions, you may need to know how the Walker circulation described in the web pages influences Pacific weather.
  4. Are present conditions similar to normal? And, are they likely to stay normal? You may wish to look at El Niño forecasts contained in the Climate Diagnostics Bulletin. Note that the forecasts are produced independently by three different groups and that they sometimes contradict each other. Part of a consultant's job is to sort through conflicting information to produce a recommendation. Note: The forecast page contains several large plots that take some time to download.
  5. How accurate are the forecasts? What is the track record of those making the forecast?
  6. What are the implications for the area and the report?

Hints for Writing Your Report

  • Write for the person who will read the report. If you are writing for a manager, they will not have the experience and background necessary to understand a highly technical report full of specialized words.
    • Use words they will understand.
    • Use simple English.
  • Keep it short. Most readers will read the first page, but may stop there.
  • Provide the critical information.
    • What is wanted?
    • Did you provide it? Or did you provide information that had nothing to do with the Gulf of Carpentaria.
    • Will reader believe you? Have you provided enough information to convince the reader the information in the report is correct?
  • Provide the critical information first, then fill in the reasons for the your conclusions. No one wants to read all the way through a report to learn there is nothing to be concerned about. The first sentence ought to state what the report is about, the second ought to give the answer.

Revised on: 13 October, 2008

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