Possible Strongest El Nino on Record Gets Another Kick From Upper Ocean Heat

For the month of July, El Nino crossed solidly into strong event thresholds. Temperatures in the key indicator Nino 3.4 region have continued to rise overall, hitting 1.5 degrees Celsius above average during the first week of the month, then hitting +1.7 and +1.6 C during the second and third weeks. Model consensus continues to show the heat building — hitting around +2.1 C in the average by October, November and December.


(A NOAA comparison shows the 1997-1998 El Nino at peak heat during November of 1997 [left frame]. The right frame image shows the 2014-2016 El Nino during its mid July ramp-up. Note the hot blob of water off the US West Coast in the July 2015 image. Heat in this region tends to drive an atmospheric feedback that continues to push more warm water into the Eastern and Central Equatorial Pacific. Note that, due to this and other factors, the 2014-2016 will likely also hit a peak intensity during October or November. An intensity that could exceed the monster 1997-1998 El Nino event. Image source: NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory.)

So much warming in this region of the Pacific would be enough to make the 2014-2016 El Nino nearly as strong as the 1997-1998 event. But, ominously, a few of our more trusted models show temperatures peaking out at around +3 C for the Nino 3.4 zone. A level that would exceed all previous thresholds for El Nino strength. It’s the kind of heat pulse that would re-write the record books for strong El Ninos. The kind that would enable global surface air temperatures — under the constant and building pressure of an excessive human greenhouse gas emission — to hit new and troubling record highs over the coming months.

For such a record event to happen, there needs to be a powerful plug of heat just beneath the ocean surface. It needs to back up into the Central Pacific and it needs to be intense enough to deliver the kind of heat energy predicted. And all indications are that the available heat energy for this potentially record event on the way.

A Massive Plug of Upper Ocean Heat

Back in March one of the strongest westerly wind outbreaks ever to occur in the Western Pacific sent a powerful wave of heat rippling out beneath the broadest section of equatorial ocean water in the world. Hot water, driven to near record temperatures by a human-forced warming of the atmosphere and ocean system spread out just below the surface and began to up-well — contacting the airs just off the West Coast of South America.


(Upper ocean heat is again ramping above the 1.8 C positive anomaly mark for the Equatorial Pacific. A sign that more surface warming is likely on the way. Image source: NOAA CPC.)

At that time, the NOAA measure of heat accumulated in the upper 400 meters of the Equatorial Pacific, showed temperatures had rocketed to 1.8 degrees Celsius above average for the entire basin. Since then, a series of west wind outbreaks have continued to pile abnormally warm water into the upper ocean environment — keeping temperatures in the range of 1.1 to 1.8 C above average.

Now, due to a very long duration westerly wind outbreak that began during late June and has extended for more than a month, upper ocean heat content is again on the rise. As of last week, it had rocketed again to 1.8 degrees Celsius above average for the basin. And signs indicated there was at least a moderate potential for continued strengthening of this heat pulse. Observational data and GFS model runs show a continuing westerly wind flow over the Western Pacific. Winds circling around two lows parallel to one another and straddling the Equator near 170 East are predicted to increase to near 25 to 35 mph over the next few days. It’s the most recent surge in this very long duration westerly wind outbreak. One that will likely only continue to drive more heat into the upper ocean environment.

Kelvin Wave

(A strong Kelvin Wave is now backing more and more heat into the Nino 3.4 zone. In watching the progress of upper ocean heat in this visualization, we could be witnessing the final stages of an event that will go down in the record books. Image source: NOAA CPC)

Already, we can see the strong, warm Kelvin Wave — which has been a persistent feature since mid March — becoming reinvigorated. The Kelvin Wave is now rebounding away from coastal South America even as its warm water zones expand. Its hottest waters are heading more toward mid Ocean. A trend that, if forecast models prove correct, will deliver serious heat to the middle Pacific sea surface region this Fall.

It’s a massive delivery of heat that we can now watch in slow motion. One that could now be in the process of delivering one of the strongest, if not the strongest El Nino in the history of record keeping for this ocean warming event.


NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory


NOAA’s Weekly El Nino Report

NOAA Shows June of 2015 Smashed All Prior Heat Records; El Nino Keeps Strengthening; Hothouse Mass Casualties Strike Europe, Japan

Under an oppressive human fossil fuel emission, the world just keeps getting hotter and hotter, the 2015-2016 El Nino just keeps looking ever more monstrous, and reports of tragic, heat-related, mass casualty events just keep rolling in.

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JULY 21, 2015: All the major climate monitors have now chimed in — NASA, Japan’s Meteorological Agency, NOAA. And June of 2015 is now marked as the hottest recorded in every single one. But of these, the NOAA measure, which provided its Global Analysis report yesterday, clearly is the starkest.

Showing extraordinary warming, June of 2015, according to NOAA, hit +0.88 C above the 20th Century average. That’s an excessive leap of +0.12 C over last year’s previous record June measure showing a +0.76 C global temperature departure and just 0.02 C behind the all-time monthly record values for any month hit just this year during February and March (+0.90 C).  When compared to 1880s averages, June was fully 1.08 C hotter. That’s more than halfway to the (not safe) 2 C threshold which IPCC has marked off as the point where catastrophic impacts from human caused climate change really start to hit high gear.

June anomaly

(On the up ramp to a hothouse. The NOAA global climate record for land and ocean temperatures over the last 136 years in which June of 2015 is now the all-time hottest. Image source: NOAA.)

We can clearly see the progress of rapid warming over the past 136 years in the above graph. Particularly since 1980 — when global temperatures really started to hit a rapid ramp up. Note that the mythological pause is not at all evident in the above graph. Global temperatures through June measures just kept driving on — higher and higher.

Back to Back Record Years on the Way — The Human Warming Escalator and The El Nino Jump

With all the June measures coming in so strongly on the hot side, and with the first half of this year already substantially warmer than the previous record warm year of 2014, it appears that we are locking in for back-to-back years of record heat. These new records are occurring in the context both of the larger, human-forced warming trend and as we hit the warm end of the global natural variability scale — El Nino.

It’s important to remember that the driver of these new records is the underlying accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Deke Arndt, chief of the monitoring branch of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), noted at a press conference last month:

“Climate change is a long-term driver, so that’s like standing on an escalator as it goes up. So, the longer that we go into history, we’re riding up the escalator. And now that we’re getting an El Niño event, we happen to be jumping up at the same time, and so they play together to produce outcomes like what is likely to be the warmest year on record.”

And propelled by that human warming escalator, the current El Nino jump is starting to look absolutely savage.

El Nino Just Keeps Growing Stronger

For today’s Australia Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) report showed the current El Nino striking down yet another 1997 record. According to BoM findings, all key Nino ocean zones have shown surface temperatures in excess of 1 C above average for 10 successive weeks. This shatters the previous record duration for such an event — occurring in 1997 at 8 weeks in length. Notably, the current record heat build for Nino zones is still ongoing. So the new, 2015 record could extend further.

Overall, BoM shows the entire Eastern Equatorial Pacific now at +2 C. To get an idea what this looks like, we can take a peek at the Earth Nullschool sea surface temperature anomaly measure:



(The entire Northern, Eastern and Equatorial Pacific is exceedingly hot — showing anomalies in the +1 to +4 C range practically everywhere. Meanwhile, temperatures in the Central Pacific are starting to approach Super El Nino ranges. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Taking in this shot, it’s worth pausing for a moment to appreciate the fact that not only is the Equatorial Pacific outrageously hot, the entire Northern and Eastern Pacific from the Arctic on south is just off-the-charts hot. If you ever wondered what the emerging face of a Godzilla El Nino looks like, well, just remember this shot.

NOAA, meanwhile, shows El Nino continuing to extend its foray into strong event range. The critical Nino 3.4 measure of Central Pacific Ocean temperatures jumped again in the July 20 weekly report — hitting a +1.7 C anomaly. This is jump up from last week’s +1.5 C measure and is now knocking on the door to a super El Nino threshold of +1.8 C. NOAA’s three weekly reports for July now average +1.53 C for the Central Pacific — solidly in strong El Nino range for the month.

NOAA also began to track a third warm Kelvin Wave running across the Pacific. This Kelvin Wave is propagating eastward as a result of a strong West Wind Backburst that has blown over the Western Pacific throughout much of July. These winds are pushing warm surface waters down and under the Equatorial region. Ocean heat that will resurface off South American. Recharging already hot waters with a new hot influx and further strengthening an already strong El Nino.

The signal of this new warm water flood is now really starting to show up in the model runs. Corrected seasonal models now show an event in the range of 1997-1998. Uncorrected runs, including the Euro ensemble, continue to show potentials for an event that would make the 1997 Super El Nino look tiny by comparison.

Monthly anomalies Nino 3.4 Monster El Nino

(NOAA’s CFSv2 models still picking up a heat impact murmur of a monster El Nino in our near future. Image source: NOAA.)

Typically, El Nino reaches peak strength during Northern Hemisphere Fall and Winter. So we’re in a ramp-up phase that could last through October and November and we are already starting to hit strong event values in July. The current El Nino is predicted to remain a feature until late Winter or early Spring of 2016. Strongest global temperature heightening impacts come during and slightly after peak ocean warming due to El Nino. So the temperature records we’ve seen so far in 2014 and 2015 may just be prelude to the main event.

Heat Related Mass Casualties in Europe and Japan

It really is the kind of global heat spike that you don’t want to see. The kind that enables heatwaves to put droves of people into hospitals with life-threatening heat ailments. Earlier this summer, both India and Pakistan suffered mass casualty heatwave events. Instances that filled hospitals with tens of thousands of patients. In India, 2,500 souls were lost. In Pakistan, the number hit 1,242. These represent the 5th and 8th most deadly heatwaves on record, respectively.

Now, reports are starting to trickle in that Europe and Japan are suffering similar, although still somewhat less acute mass casualty events due to record heat. According to Dr. Jeff Masters, excess mortality due to heat had claimed more than 1,200 lives across Western Europe through early July. Meanwhile, reports are also starting to trickle in from Japan of heat related mass casualties. A report last week from Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency found that 3,000 people had been admitted for heat stroke to hospitals across the island nation during the period of July 6 through 12.

Over the next few days, record-breaking heat is again expected to invade parts of southern Europe, setting the stage for more potential heat casualties.

Conditions in Context — Heat Breaking New Records Means More Extreme Weather

All time record high global temperatures for 2015 and likely at least a decent period during 2016 means we are also likely to continue to experience odd and severe weather conditions over many regions of the globe. A fact that was punctuated in Southern California earlier this week as the remnants of a tropical cyclone dumped 1.69 inches of rain — or more than ten times the amount of rainfall typical for July — over parts of San Diego through Monday. Possibly a taste of what’s to come for California should the currently building Godzilla-type El Nino — pumped up by a catastrophic rate of human greenhouse gas emission — crush the West Coast blocking pattern and hurl a barrage of powerful storms at the drought-parched state. A situation many may be hoping for at this time, but which they could easily come to regret as the extreme intensity of weather switches in the new climate age of 1 C warming start to become evident.


NOAA Global Analysis

June 2015: Earth’s Warmest on Record

2015 On Track to Be Hottest Year Yet

NOAA Press Conference Notes

Earth Nullschool

What The Weekend Rains Did to Southern California

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob and Ryan in New England

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego (How about that rain?)

Hat Tip to Matt




El Nino Starting to Look Wicked — + 5.1 C Spot Anomaly in EPAC

It looks like the monster El Nino hinted at in the work of scientist Kevin Trenberth and written about here for the past year and a half may now be starting to show her face.

West winds blowing over Western Pacific waters hit near record strength (for this time of year) and substantial length over the past couple of weeks. Model forecasts mostly all show a strong to unprecedented El Nino peaking out by mid Fall 2015. And now, sea surface temperatures in the Eastern Pacific are starting to look freakishly hot.


(It’s getting very hot in El Nino zones 1-3 with a significant +5.1 C spot anomaly just off the South American Coastline. Image source Earth Nullschool.)

For over the past few days sea surface temperatures in the Nino 1+2 and Nino 3 zones have really warmed up. Waters just off South America have grown particularly hot with much of the box covering 80 to 90 degrees West and 0 to 10 degrees South showing temperatures above 3 C hotter than average. A large area of this warm water pool features hot anomalies above 4 C with peak readings in the measure hitting an extreme +5.1 C anomaly.

Running along the Equator and into the Nino 3 zone, wide regions of ocean now feature +2 to +3.6 C positive anomaly readings. Overall, these are substantial jumps from last week and finally put the Eastern Pacific in an anomaly range comparable to the blob of hot water off the US and Canadian West Coasts.

According to NOAA’s Weekly El Nino update, sea surface temperatures in the Nino 1+2, Nino 3, and Nino 3.4 zones hit +2.7 C, +2 C, and +1.4 C positive anomalies respectively. More recent sea surface temperature analysis like the one above hints at continued warming in these three zones over the past few days.

Monthly maximum for nino regions

(Monthly sea surface temperature anomalies by zone according to data from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

By contrast, the above graph shows highest monthly values for the record-breaking 1997-1998 El Nino at +2.6 (Nino 3.4), +3.6 (Nino 3) and +4.1 (Nino 1+2). The new readings over recent weeks shows the current El Nino starting to close the gap. But with many weeks and months ahead for El Nino development, we are still in the formation stages even after more than a year of build-up. And the hot water pool in the Northeast Pacific, providing an amazing ocean and atmospheric spring-board for the rising El Nino to push off against, gives us a few hints as to how extraordinary that build-up may be.

From Kevin Trenberth in 2010 when talking about human heating of the climate system hiding out in the world’s oceans:

“The heat will come back to haunt us sooner or later. The reprieve we’ve had from warming temperatures in the last few years will not continue. It is critical to track the build-up of energy in our climate system so we can understand what is happening and predict our future climate.”

With El Nino really starting to look nasty and the world already well into new record hot temperature ranges it certainly looks like Dr. Treberth’s warnings are bearing out in dramatic and unpleasant fashion.


Deep Ocean Warming is Coming Back to Haunt Us

Earth Nullschool

NOAA’s Weekly El Nino Report

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

How Ocean Heat Will Come Back to Haunt Us

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Summer El Nino on The Way; Long Range Models Are Still Freaking Out

Well, it’s official. According to NOAA’s May 14 update, we are now looking at a 90 percent chance that El Nino conditions prevail through Northern Hemisphere Summer and a greater than 80 percent chance El Nino will last throughout all of 2015:

El Nino Potential through 2015

(Climate Prediction Center’s ENSO probability forecast shows 90 percent chance of El Nino through June, July and August and a greater than 80 percent chance that El Nino continues on through to the end of this year. Image source: CPC/IRI.)

What this means, especially when we add in likely record warm global atmospheric temperatures (due to an excessive burning of fossil fuels by human beings) throughout the El Nino event period, is some rather odd, and probably extreme summer weather.

For the US, it means an increasing likelihood of heavy precipitation events from the southern plains states through the desert southwest. Storm track intensification through the Pacific to North America means that extreme rainfall events are a distinct possibility for states like Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico. California may even see some abnormal summer rainfall, taking a bit of the edge off the current drought.

Moving southward, we find drier conditions for equatorial South America and warmer than normal conditions for much of Brazil and Chile. Northern Hemisphere Summer El Nino also enhances the risk of drought throughout Australia, Southeast Asia, and India. In particular, India is vulnerable to monsoonal disruption due to emergence of El Nino during summer time. Enhanced precipitation near the date line also can spur increased cyclone development for the Western Pacific.

Northern Hemisphere teleconnections

(A geographic representation of major prevailing summer El Nino teleconnections. Image source: Berkley.)

These sets of atmospheric changes are what we could generally expect from a typical El Nino emerging throughout Northern Hemisphere summer. But we’re not really dealing with normal conditions. We’re dealing with global temperatures in the range of +0.8 degrees C above 20th Century averages and + 1 C above 1880s averages. As such, we should probably look to the margins for potential added impact.

Two areas in particular come to mind when considering such outliers. The first region is a zone from Ukraine through to Western Russia. Under added human heat forcing and conditions prevalent during summer El Ninos, this region shows an increased likelihood of drought and heatwave. A vulnerability that became particularly apparent during the El Nino of 2009-2010. Drought conditions are somewhat widespread for that region already this year. In addition, atmospheric high pressure development in this vulnerable area would now, with the enhanced surface warming due to human heat forcing, telegraph into the Arctic through a vulnerable zone near Yamal and the Kara and Laptev Seas. This would particularly enhance snow melt, permafrost thaw, and sea ice melt throughout this region. So with El Nino now a summertime certainty, this broader area certainly bears watching.

El Nino Teleconnection

(El Nino teleconnection to warming in Northwestern North America through to the Arctic Ocean and in regions of Central, Western and Northern Asia are possible this summer. Above is a GFS model  forecast temperature anomaly summary provided by The University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer.)

The second region to look out for is the zone ranging from Northwest Canada through Alaska and on into the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Summer El Ninos tend to enhance warming for this region. When adding in an already persistent heating throughout 2015 winter and spring, the area will fall under greatly heightened risk of severe wildfires and extreme and early snow and sea ice melt. Early extreme wildfires in British Columbia combined with rapid sea ice recession already ongoing through the Beaufort and Chukchi may well be indications that such a trend has already asserted.

Some Long Range Models Are Still Freaking Out Over a Potential Monster El Nino Later This Year

Moving beyond summer, we find a wide range of model consensus estimates showing strong El Nino by fall and winter of this year. NINO 3.4 departures from an average of global model ensembles compiled by Weather Underground hit a value of +1.7 C by September. A level just below the so-called Super El Nino Threshold of +1.8 C.

NOAA CFSv2 ensembles have continued to ramp higher. Weighted seasonal means have now spiked to +2.75 C for the key NINO 3.4 region with unweighted ensembles hitting +3 C for October, November and December. Weighted monthly means have spiked to +3 C anomaly for November while unweighted anomaly values for the same month have proceeded off the charts to an implied +3.5 C:

Nino 3.4 Monthly Anomalies May 15

(Some El Nino forecast models, like the one above, are really freaking out about the potential for a monster event by the end of this year. This NOAA model is basically off the charts. Image source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

Should these predicted values emerge, they will literally blow the 1998-1999 Super El Nino out of the water. A monster event to shatter all records.

It’s likely that the currently extreme subsurface temperatures due to a very strong warm Kelvin Wave as well as continued powerful west wind back-bursts have kicked these models into freak out mode. And it’s certainly an issue worth keeping an eye on.

But it’s also worthwhile to consider that global deep ocean and atmospheric dynamics will push to cool equatorial Pacific waters during September, which would tend to tamp down warming extremes. A factor that many models, which measure the shallow water zone primarily, tend to miss.

Dr. Kevin Treberth, a top expert on El Nino and Ocean Temperature dynamics, notes to Weather Underground in a recent interview that:

“What happens after this Kelvin wave response is all over the place. This El Niño is being fought by the annual cycle, which tries to make SSTs cold by Sept-Oct.  That tendency keeps the warmest waters back near the International Date Line and cuts off the Bjerknes feedback.  If the SSTs develop to be big enough to overcome the annual cycle tendencies, then the Bjerknes feedback can kick in.”

For reference, Bjerknes feedback involves storm formation and subsequent west wind backbursts east of the Date Line and on toward South America. A feedback that tends to trap and channel ocean surface heat into the relevant El Nino zones and generally enhance warm sea surface temperature anomalies:

Bjerknes Feedback

(Graphic illustration of Bjerknes feedback showing sea surface temperature anomalies in the color measure and direction of wind flow indicated by black lines. It’s feature influenced by a general shoving of the Walker Cell eastward [implied but not shown]. Image source: ENSO as an Integrating Concept of Earth Science.)

So, at this point, we have a lock on a weak to moderate El Nino event continuing through this summer. After that time, an unprecedentedly warm Kelvin Wave will do battle with a seasonal tendency for cooling in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific. And if it wins out, we may see something never before recorded in the whole of the Earth Sciences — which would be very bad news for rates of global surface temperature increase this year, along with a huge number of other issues.

If not, we likely have a mid ocean El Nino through Fall and Autumn. And that may be bad news for a California desperately in need of drought relief.


NOAA’s May 14 El Nino Update



Climate Reanalyzer

Weather Underground

ENSO as an Integrating Concept of Earth Science

Steaming Equatorial Pacific Sees Winds Blowing Toward Monster El Nino

Last year, we raised a warning that the 2014-2015 El Nino could develop into a monster event. And, unfortunately, there is some indication that conditions may well be continuing in that direction.

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All across the broad belt of the Equatorial Pacific, sea surface temperatures are running in the hot-to-extraordinarily hot range. Starting just north and east of New Guinea, 1 C + above average temperature anomalies run uninterrupted to a zone near the date line where they encounter a hot pool in the range of +2.6 to +3.1 C above average. Running eastward, these high heat anomalies gradually taper off to +1.4 to +1.7 C along a 5,000 mile stretch before they again spike to +3 to +4 C above average just off the west coast of South America.

A massive zone of above average sea surface temperatures encompassing almost the entire width of the Equatorial Pacific:


(Pacific Ocean showing extreme heat anomalies across most regions. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Hot equatorial waters in a Pacific Ocean that, from Arctic north to Austral south, from East Asian shores to the west coasts of the Americas is a morass of record high temperatures. An ocean zone featuring few and dwindling pools of lower than average readings. Oceans undergoing rising rates of heat-related sea creature die offs in waters that, when they warm, lose vital oxygen and host toxin-producing microbes that thrive in hot water.

It’s a freakishly hot Pacific. A strange ocean. One that we aren’t quite accustomed to. One in the grips of what is already a moderate strength El Nino. An El Nino that, combined with an extraordinary human greenhouse gas heat forcing, has pushed global surface temperatures into record high range for 2014 and the first three months of 2015 thus far. An El Nino which is now threatening a new leap to monster status.

For a powerful Kelvin Wave is presently lending heat to equatorial surface waters after receiving a boost from gale force westerly winds associated with the strongest Madden Julian Oscillation on record this past March. An raging equatorial heat engine that is now drawing yet more energy from a second set of strong westerlies developing this week.


(Strong westerlies emerging in the Western Pacific on May 6 may provide yet another boost to the 2014-2015 El Nino. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In the above GFS summary, we find sustained winds in the range of 30 mph with gale force gusts in a region along and just north of the Equator near New Guinea. The winds are in association with a developing cyclone, one that models indicate will reach strong Typhoon status later this week. The westerlies stretch westward along the back of New Guinea and on toward the Philippines. There, they receive a boost from another cyclone — Tropical Storm Noul.

The result is a brisk set of westerlies running against the trades along hundreds of miles of open ocean. The kind of event with the potential to further strengthen an El Nino that is already at respectable intensity.

This week’s CFSv2 NOAA forecast models continued to indicate an extreme strength El Nino by later this year. Weighted models are now showing seasonal anomalies in the Nino 3.4 zone peaking out at +2.3 C. Weighted monthly models are showing peaks in the range of +2.5 C above average for Nino 3.4. And unweighted models are showing peak averages that now exceed +3.1 C. This is a jump from last week’s CFSv2 forecast. Another set in a continued trend for higher intensity.

Monster El Nino forecast

(NOAA’s forecast models show potential for extreme El Nino starting in June and extending into January. Image source: NOAA.)

Should such an event emerge it would truly be a monster. Something far worse than even the Super El Nino of 1998.

An extraordinary El Nino of this kind would have far-reaching climate and weather related impacts. It would push global temperatures into ever more dangerous ranges. It would strain global carbon sinks. And it would worsen drought and/or set off heavy precipitation events in various, already vulnerable regions of the globe. With model forecasts continuing to hit higher values, with so much available heat to fuel El Nino ranging the Pacific, and with strong westerlies continuing to reinforce the current El Nino, this is a situation that bears very serious continued monitoring.


Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

Earth Nullschool

March Shows Strongest Madden Julian Oscillation on Record

Starving Sea Lion Pups and Liquified Starfish





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