Samuel G. Philander

Knox Taylor Professor of Geosciences, Emeritus
Department of Geosciences
Climate Science
Email Address: 
Office Location: 
418A Guyot Hall

Title: Knox Taylor Professor of Geosciences, Emeritus

Area(s): Climate Science

Research Summary: Professor Philander's interest in the tropical oceans’ response to variability in winds then coalesced into George’s abiding interest in the El Niño phenomenon. By combining these insights on the oceanic response to wind variability with earlier efforts to understand how changing sea surface temperatures affected the atmosphere, a coherent picture emerged of a coupled atmosphere-ocean phenomenon: an unstable nonlinear oscillator, with atmospheric winds responding to ocean temperatures and ocean temperatures responding to atmospheric winds. George orchestrated the research of a closely knit group of colleagues that laid the foundation of the modern understanding of this phenomenon. It was the work of George and his close colleagues that made it clear that El Niño should not be thought of as a metastable state that the climate would occasionally fall into, but that it contained the seeds of its own destruction (in particular, through the equatorial Rossby waves generated during the emergence of the El Niño state) and was best thought of as a phase of a nonlinear oscillation. George (or his Spanish-speaking wife, Hilda) coined the term La Niña for the opposite phase, a term that has entered the popular lexicon. He also wrote the first modern monograph on the subject in 1990: El Niño, La Niña, and the Southern Oscillation. MORE INFO

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