Figure 1: Topex/Poseidon Measuring System, graphic: NASA
Global climate patterns such as El Niño are not simply the outcome of scientific modeling derived from satellite images and other ocean temperature sensing technologies. El Niño first emerged as a narrative through local stories of extreme weather events, preserved by the people of the coastal countries of South America, Indonesia and Asia. This rich local environmental knowledge of extreme weather events and the storms, floods, droughts, and famine it causes in these regions, went largely unnoticed in the northern hemisphere. Only in the 1980s and 1990s did El Niño become part of the new scientific imagery of a global environmental science. Although the ocean gained both public and scientific recognition as a main agent of global climate patterns, the scientific integration of El Niño into global climate models and their forecasting has so far not led to the prevention of local environmental catastrophes. Instead, science changed how “the catastrophic” is perceived.
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