Quasi-periodic variation in sea-surface temperature, precipitation, and sea-level pressure in the equatorial Pacific known as the El Niño &8211; Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is an important mode of interannual variability in global climate. A collapse of the tropical Pacific onto a state resembling a so-called &8216;permanent El Niño&8217;, with a preferentially warmed eastern equatorial Pacific, flatter thermocline, and reduced interannual variability, in a warmer world is predicted by prevailing ENSO theory. If correct, future warming will be accompanied by a shift toward persistent conditions resembling El Niño years today, with major implications for global hydrological cycles and consequent impacts on socioeconomic and ecological systems. However, much uncertainty remains about how interannual variability will be affected. Here, we present multi-annual records of climate derived from growth increment widths in fossil bivalves and co-occurring driftwood from the Antarctic peninsula that demonstrate significant variability in the quasi-biennial and 3&8211;6 year bands consistent with ENSO, despite early Eocene (&8764;50 Mya) greenhouse conditions with global average temperature &8764;10 degrees higher than today. A coupled climate model suggests an ENSO signal and teleconnections to this region during the Eocene, much like today. The presence of ENSO variation during this markedly warmer interval argues for the persistence of robust interannual variability in our future greenhouse world.
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