As I read J. Madeleine Nash's El Niño: Unlocking the Secrets of the Master Weather-Maker, global weather observers were announcing the formation of the latest El Niño in the western Pacific basin. How this latest El Niño manifestation will affect us remains to be seen, but I am sure many will see the "bad boy" face while to some, it will be a "favourite son" visit.
I began reading Nash's book with some trepidation. As Nash is a former science correspondent for TIME magazine, I feared the book might be too focused on the disaster aspects of El Niño that typified much of the reporting during the 1997-98 event. I am pleased to say I was dead wrong in my fears. Nash's El Niño is a marvelously written tale of the global phenomenon known as El Niño and the dedicated scientists who sought, and still seek, to understand El Niño and its components.
Nash focuses most of the early chapters on how we came to recognize the El Niño phenomenon, including the first scientific efforts to determine its causes and to forecast its onset in the 19th Century. She particularly focuses on the extensive glacial research of Lonnie Thompson and colleagues, who search ice cores for the El Niño signature. Their difficult and hazardous task of obtaining ice cores from remote mountain glaciers has provided us with significant understanding of historical El Niño episodes. In detailing their field work, Nash relates a story of dedicated researchers looking for the next piece in the global climate record.
[As an aside, the book opened my thinking for the need for new terminology to cover El Niño and similar atmospheric/oceanic states that cover multi-year periods. Weather has a short-term, day-to-day connotation, and I think of climate as describing cycles defined over decades. The middle time scale, spanning one to five years or so, should have a unique descriptive term.]
In the remainder of the book, Nash looks at several of the major impacts, such as disease, forest fires, storms and coral deaths, of El Niño conditions -- some definite and some suspected -- and she does so with a style that raises the reader's understanding and concern without resorting to the "sky is falling" and "ain't it awful" rhetoric that characterized the reporting of the last major El Niño phase. Nash concludes the book with a well-balanced look at the suspected linkage between the recent spate of strong, extended El Niño events and the global warming pattern manifest over the last decade or so.
El Niño: Unlocking the Secrets of the Master Weather-Maker, by J. Madeleine Nash is a well-timed release given the current emerging El Niño pattern in the Pacific. It will be a great asset to help answer many questions that will arise in the coming months on the nature and potential impacts of El Niño.
I most highly recommend El Niño: Unlocking the Secrets of the Master Weather-Maker. It is a clear and well-written account of the El Niño phenomenon which affects us all. The book also brings us many marvelous insights into the history of our understanding of its causes and effects from the first recognition to present-day research programs. The book will appeal to many different interests and belongs on the shelf of all who are interested in El Niño.
Keith C. Heidorn, PhD
THE WEATHER DOCTOR
June 10, 2002