S. George H. Philander

Princeton University

Primary Section: 16, Geophysics
Membership Type:
Member (elected 2004)

Research Interests

The atmospheric circulation, especially the surface winds, strongly influence oceanic currents and hence sea surface temperature patterns in the tropics. Those patterns, whose salient features are large regions of cold surface waters off the western coasts of the Americas and Africa in latitudes where sunlight is intense, in turn have a profound effect on the atmospheric circulation. This interdependence of atmospheric and oceanic conditions implies that interactions between the two media are unstable and give rise to climate fluctuations over a broad spectrum of time-scales. My research interests focus on phenomena whose properties depend on those interactions, including: the seasonal cycle (which as a curious annual harmonic in the eastern equatorial Pacific even though the sun is overhead twice a year); interannual oscillations between El Nino and La Nina (which have intriguingly different properties in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans because of the different dimensions of those ocean basins); decadal modulations of El Nino associated with variations in the oceanic transport of heat from low to high latitudes; and the response of the Earth's climate to the Milankovitch forcing, modest, periodic variations in the distribution of sunlight because of modest, periodic variations in orbital parameters such as the tilt of the Earth's axis. Simulation of these Milankovitch cycles could prove critical tests for climate models that are used to anticipate future global warming.

Powered by Blackbaud
nonprofit software