Global warming to increase extreme El Nino weather events

Jan. 20, 2014 at 5:30 PM   |   0 comments

SYDNEY, Jan. 20 (UPI) -- Extreme weather events fueled by unusually strong El Nino events in the Pacific are likely to double in number as the planet warms, researchers say.

The international study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

"We currently experience an unusually strong El Nino event every 20 years. Our research shows this will double to one event every 10 years," said study co-author Agus Santoso.

"El Nino events are a multi-dimensional problem, and only now are we starting to understand better how they respond to global warming," he said in a release from Australia's University of New South Wales.

Extreme El Nino events develop differently from standard El Ninos in the western Pacific and occur when sea surface temperatures exceeding 82 degrees F. develop in the normally cold and dry eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.

This different location for the origin of the temperature, compared with a standard El Nino, causes massive changes in global rainfall patterns, the researchers said.

In an extreme El Nino event countries in the western Pacific such as Australia and Indonesia can experience devastating droughts and wild fires, while catastrophic floods can occur in the eastern equatorial region of Ecuador and northern Peru, they said.

"The question of how global warming will change the frequency of extreme El Nino events has challenged scientists for more than 20 years," said study co-author Mike McPhaden of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"This research is the first comprehensive examination of the issue to produce robust and convincing results," he said in the release.

The study suggests extreme El Nino events are likely to double in frequency as the world warms leading to direct impacts on extreme weather events worldwide, the researchers said.

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