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Situating El Niño Southern Oscillation knowledge in Boulder and New York

Authors: George Adamson*, King's College London
Topics: Climatology and Meteorology, Hazards and Vulnerability, Environmental Science
Keywords: ENSO, geography of science, situated knowledge, critical physical geography
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The El Niño Southern Oscillation has is considered one of the most important modes of climate variability worldwide. Yet forecasting of the phenomenon has been described as both ‘science’s gift to the 21st century’ and ‘shades of chaos’. This partly relates to the spatiality of ENSO knowledge production. Many of the major modelling and forecasting centres based in Europe and North America, outside of the areas considered affected by ENSO. Conversely, many of the most vulnerable ‘teleconnection’ regions are located in the global South, in countries without their own modelling capabilities and ultimately reliant on the global North. This paper draws on interviews conducted with scientists based at three such research institutions in the US: The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and NOAA based in Boulder, Colorado, and the International Research Institute for climate and society (IRI) in Palisades, New York. The study reveals that scientists working in the centres has varying conceptions of what ENSO entails. Both institutional and epistemic pressures are seeking simplicity and standardization of definitions; however, this can create even more confusion in definitions and problems with forecasting, shown most clearly with the El Niño Costero that affected northern Peru in 2017. This confusion therefore has implications for communities affected by the phenomenon.

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