My Ph.D. research focuses on the Indonesian Throughflow (ITF), which is an important but poorly understood part of global ocean circulation. It transports water and energy from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean by way of a few narrow passages, the main one being the Makassar Strait in Indonesia.
The goal of my dissertation was to create a 50 year history of the ITF from limited observational data, and then to analyze that history. I was able to simulate the transport of the ITF from 1958 through 2007, and found that the main influences on both its volume and energy transport were El Niño/La Niña and a similar Indian Ocean phenomenon called the Indian Ocean Dipole.
As you can see from the compass on the ground, the camera is facing north with the Pacific Ocean on the right and the Indian Ocean on the left. The direction of the flow is from east to west, but is not perfectly aligned with the compass because of the angle of the Makassar Strait.
I dance the part of the ITF (in blue), which is most strongly influenced by El Niño, danced by Maria Liebana (in white) and La Niña, danced by Serena Spears (in black). To a lesser extent, the ITF is also controlled by the Indian Ocean Dipole. Its positive mode, danced by Megan Ward (in light purple) is generally associated with El Niño, and its negative mode, danced by Elisa Stefanski (in dark purple) is generally associated with La Niña.
The ITF has a predictable yearly cycle, which is then influenced by these larger climate phenomena. In this performance, each four-count measure in the music corresponds to one historical year, beginning in 1958. You can therefore see the major climatic events and the ITF's reaction to them. The movements of each dancer correspond to an actual historical event. Notable among these are the 1982-83 El Niño (very strong), the 1988 La Niña (very strong) and the 2007 simultaneous La Niña and Positive Dipole Mode (rare combination).
In addition to transporting water from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, the ITF transports energy, which we can think of as heat. El Niño decreases both the volume transportation and the heat transportation of the ITF, shown here by El Niño's slow movements and the corresponding slowness of the ITF, which is then transmitted to the Indian Ocean and effects the Dipole Mode. La Niña has the opposite effect, making the ITF transport more water and warmer water, demonstrated by the fast movements of the dancers during those years.
The papers on which this dance was based are published in The Journal of Climate (Tillinger & Gordon 2009) and Dynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans (Tillinger & Gordon 2010). Thanks to my thesis advisor, Dr. Arnold L. Gordon of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, and to my dance teacher, Sera Solstice of Solstice Studio and Bold Bellydance, LLC. Without your encouragement and instruction, this performance would have been impossible. Special thanks to Richard Miller for filming and for creating our compass, and to Angelys Liranzo for love and inspiration. Thanks also to Beats Antique for providing the music, "Tabla Toy." More information, including outtakes and backstage photos, is available at http://www.debratillinger.com/PhD-Dance.