Mark A. Cane

Like so many other oceanographers, I was born in Brooklyn, New York, in the days before the Dodgers left and precipitated the decline of American civilization. I was lucky enough to work on the tropical oceans in the era when we came to understand and predict El Niño and the Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the now famous pattern of interannual climate variability with well-publicized global consequences. Together with then student Steve Zebiak, I devised the first numerical model able to simulate ENSO, and in 1985 we used this model to make the first physically based forecasts of El Niño. Over the years the Zebiak-Cane model has been the primary tool used by many investigators to enhance understanding of ENSO. Making predictions led to asking what to do with them. So I began to work on the impact of El Niño and other climate variability on human activity, especially agriculture and health. My 1994 paper (with student Gidon Eshel) on the strong effect of El Niño on the maize crop in Zimbabwe has been influential in prompting decision makers to consider climate variability. This line of inquiry led to the creation of the International Research Institute for  Climate and Society, housed here at Lamont. I also founded and directed the Masters Program in Climate and Society. While I continue to work on  equatorial dynamics, El Niño, prediction of climate variations and climate impacts, and global climate issues, current work is dominated by concern for the impacts of human influence on the climate system. IN addition to the futurre and the present , my interest is drawn to explaining the variations in the paleoclimate record, especially the astoundingly strong abrupt changes and the succession of droughts over the past millennium.

Fields of Interest

Climate Science and Climate Impacts


Harvard College, 1961-65, A.B. (Applied Mathematics)

Harvard University, 1965-66, M.S. (Applied Mathematics)

Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Program, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, 1974

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1972-75, Ph.D. (Meteorology)

Thesis advisor: Professor J. G. Charney

Honors & Awards

National Science Foundation Creativity Award 1984-1986

Sverdrup Medal of the American Meteorological Society, 1992

Fellow, American Meteorological Society, 1993

Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1995

Fellow, American Geophysical Union, 1995

Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2002

Cody Award in Ocean Sciences from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 2003

Bronze Award for Magazines Feature Article, 25,001 to 100,000 to “American Scientist “Ethnoclimatology in the Andes” 2003

Earth and Planetary Science Letters Most Cited Paper 2004-2007 Award

California Department of Water Resources – Climate Science paper award, 2007

Norbert Gerbier-MUMM International Award from the World Meteorological Organization, 2009

Maurice Ewing Medal of the American Geophysical Union, 2013

Member, National Academy of Sciences, 2013

Fellow, The Oceanography Society, 2015

Vetlesen Prize, 2017

(Some of >250)


A model El Niño Southern Oscillation

SE Zebiak, MA Cane 1987

Monthly Weather Review 115 (10), 2262-2278

Analyses of global sea surface temperature 1856–1991

A Kaplan, MA Cane, Y Kushnir, AC Clement, MB Blumenthal, ...1998

Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans 103 (C9), 18567-18589

On the weakening relationship between the Indian monsoon and ENSO

KK Kumar, B Rajagopalan, MA Cane 1999

Science 284 (5423), 2156-2159

Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought

CP Kelley, S Mohtadi, MA Cane, R Seager, Y Kushnir 2015

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112 (11), 3241-3246

Experimental forecasts of EL Nino

MA Cane, SE Zebiak, SC Dolan 1986

Nature 321 (6073), 827-832

Civil conflicts are associated with the global climate

SM Hsiang, KC Meng, MA Cane 2011

Nature 476 (7361), 438-441

North American drought: Reconstructions, causes, and consequences

ER Cook, R Seager, MA Cane, DW Stahle 2007

Earth-Science Reviews 81 (1-2), 93-134

Unraveling the mystery of Indian monsoon failure during El Niño

KK Kumar, B Rajagopalan, M Hoerling, G Bates, M Cane 2006

Science 314 (5796), 115-119

Current approaches to seasonal to interannual climate predictions

L Goddard, SJ Mason, SE Zebiak, CF Ropelewski, R Basher, MA Cane 2001

International J. of Climatology 21, 1,111-1,152.

Oceanographic events during el nino

MA Cane 1983

Science 222 (4629), 1189-1195

A theory for El Niño and the Southern Oscillation

MA Cane, SE Zebiak 1985

Science 228 (4703), 1085-1087

Closing of the Indonesian seaway as a precursor to east African aridification around 3–4 million years ago

MA Cane, P Molnar 2001

Nature 411 (6834), 157-162

Twentieth-century sea surface temperature trends

MA Cane, AC Clement, A Kaplan, Y Kushnir, D Pozdnyakov, R Seager, ...1997

Science 275 (5302), 957-960