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Unmasking El Niño and its catastrophic effects

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

Captivating headlines revolve around a popular weather phenomenon: El Niño. El Niño is an oceanic phenomenon that occurs anywhere from every two to seven years and lasts for around a year. It is characterized by the unusual warming of the surface waters in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, which in turn influences weather patterns across the globe. The warmer waters cause dryer and warmer weather in Northern U.S.A. and Canada, and wetter weather near the Gulf Coast and Southeast U.S.A.

El Niño causes a shift in the Pacific jet stream, a current of air flowing from west to east around the globe. The Pacific jet stream has a great impact on temperature and precipitation patterns and affects the path of winter storms. Consequently, El Niño prompts an increase in winter storms in California, heightened rainfall in Peru, and the onset of droughts in Australia, among other impacts. The intensity of El Niño influences the extent of these weather patterns by increasing their impact.

Reef with fishes

Furthermore, El Niño exerts an influence on marine life by disrupting migration patterns, which affects the abundance and distribution of fish and other organisms near South America. This has a ripple effect on the larger ecosystem since an increase or decrease in prey/predators can cause a change in the population of other species. In addition, the nutrients available tend to decrease. The warming of surface waters during El Niño reduces the upwelling of nutrient-rich cold water from the deeper ocean layers. This can cause a lack of resources up the food chain starting at the base of the food web.

In the coming months, an El Niño is expected to begin. When combined with human-induced climate change, this is projected to drive global temperatures to unprecedented levels, which could have catastrophic implications for biodiversity, ecosystems, and socio-economic factors. Mitigating the potentially disastrous effects of a warming El Niño and climate change requires a united global response and sustained efforts towards sustainable practices.

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