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Physical Oceanography
Combined Homework and Laboratory Set 8
Due 20 April 2004

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 tin-mining company. The report must describe the environmental conditions to be expected in the Strait of Malacca north of of Sumatra in March 2000. The company wants to begin exploratory mining that month. The report is due on 25 November.

Your boss comes to you at 8:00 AM on 20 April in a panic. She says the report is nearly complete, but she has just heard thatEl Niñocan cause the actual environmental conditions 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 Fall 2004 will be normal in the Pacific so she can issue the environmental report on schedule. Can you assure her, by noon, that Fall 2004 will be normal? Or can you convince her that conditions will be very different from normal, and that her report must be revised?

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. DoesEl Niñoinfluence the area? After all, if it doesn't, then there is no problem.
  2. What conditions defineEl Niño? After all, how can you determine ifEl Niñois not happening now if you don't know what anEl Niñois? To help you with this question, I have put some pertinent pages from George Philander's book in the Working Collection (El Niño, La Nina, and the Southern Oscillation, Academic Press, 1990, 289 pp). You can also find descriptions ofEl Niñoon the web. See, for example, A Quick Guide toEl Niño maintained by the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle.
  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. You may also want to look at the real-time satellite altimetry data from the Pacific at the University of Texas web pages, especially the latest Time-Longitude Plot produced at the University of Texas. You can also consult latest images of sea level from the Jason altimeter archived by the the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's and their El Niñowatch web page. 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 Niñoforecasts 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. What are the implications for the area and the report?


Philander, George 1990, El Niño,La Niña, and the Southern Oscillation, New York: Academic Press.

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?
    • Will reader believe you? Have you provided enough information to convince the reader the information in the report is correct?

Updated on: 5 September, 2004

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