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C. Testing The Waters

Narrator: This is Science Today. It wasn't so long ago that climatologists paid little attention to the Pacific Ocean. Tim Barnett, a marine research physicist at the University of California, San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography says that all changed after experts failed to predict the powerful El Nino of 1982.

Barnett: We were really clueless! And I think that got a lot of people upset and so a number of people began to work on the kind of numerical models and data systems that we needed to really improve our predictive skill.

Narrator: Fifteen years later, researchers at Scripps were able to predict this year's El Nino a year in advance and because of better computer models, Barnett says the Pacific Ocean is not such a mystery anymore.

Barnett: There are buoys raised now in the Pacific Ocean so you can dial into the web and see what the water temperature is anywhere in the equatorial Pacific Ocean today which is sort of neat. And all of that, of course, goes into improving the models and helping to verify your forecasts.

Narrator: Meanwhile, it's predicted this year's El Nino may be the biggest to date. For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.