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). The name El Niño, Spanish for "the child," refers to the infant Jesus Christ and is applied because an El Niño event usually begins during the Christmas season. El Niño occurs every three to seven years and its effects are world wide observed. In Australia and Southeast Asia it brings extreme drought, and in the west the deserts of Peru bloom due to abundant rain and east Africa is either hit by extreme drought of flooding.
El Niño is an oscillation of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific having important consequences for weather around the globe.
El Niño was originally recognized by fisherman off the coast of South America as the appearance of unusually warm water in the Pacific ocean, occurring near the beginning of the year. El Niño means The Little Boy or Christ child in Spanish. This name was used for the tendency of the phenomenon to arrive around Christmas. The name El Niño (referring to the Christ child) was originally given by Peruvian fisherman to a warm current that appeared each year around Christmas. What we now call El Niño seemed to them like a stronger event of the same type, and the usage of the term changed to refer only to the irregular strong events. It wasn't until the 1960s that it was widely realized that this was not just a local Peruvian occurrence, but was associated with changes over the entire tropical Pacific and beyond.
The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth. The weather and climate condition known as El Niño is caused by a change in the wind pattern over the equatorial Pacific Ocean. This change leads to changes in how the Pacific distributes heat to other parts of Earth, and to changes in weather and climate. One of the changes in weather caused by an El Niño is a redistribution of rainfall around the Pacific Ocean. Because the Pacific is so big, a large El Niño can also alter the weather in places far from the Pacific.
During a normal year, strong, easterly surface winds (winds blowing from the east to the west) along the equator, cause upwelling of cold water along the coast of South America. Warmer waters are pushed westward along the equator and they form a warm water pool in the tropical western Pacific Ocean. Just as warm water in the bathtub causes moisture to accumulate in the air, warm seawater creates a lot of moisture in the air above. Because of the moist air, countries in the western Pacific such as Indonesia normally have very high rainfall.
If the easterly surface winds weaken, or reverse, the warm pool moves from the western Pacific to the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. This situation is known as an El Niño, and when this happens, heavy rainfall occurs along the coasts of Peru, Mexico and California instead. The warm water also acts as a cap that prevents cold water from upwelling along the eastern edge of the Pacific Ocean.
El Nino is first recorded in the early 1500s, and it happens every four years at that time. It usually lasts for a few weeks, but major events lasts for a little longer than a year. Recent events occur in 1957, 1965, 1972, 1976, 1982, 1983, and 1997. A powerful El Nino in 1982 and 1983 caused severe droughts in Australia and Indonesia. On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, it brought an unusually large number of storms in California, USA. There were also violent rains and destructive floods in Ecuador and Peru.
Dry season plains, Northwest Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, 1982
Peruvian anchovy fishery
During the occurrence of El Nino, the westward-blowing southeast trade winds over the equatorial Pacific will collapse. This collapse allows warm water from the western Pacific to surge eastward along the equator. Along the coast of Ecuador and Peru, the arrival of this warm water suppresses the upwelling nutrientloaded cold water and disturbs the local fishery. The 1972 El Nino led to the collapse of the once-large
El Nino happens when weakening trade winds (which sometimes even reverse direction) allow the warmer water from the western Pacific to flow toward the east. This flattens out the sea level, builds up warm surface water off the coast of South America, and increases the temperature of the water in the eastern Pacific. The deeper, warmer water in the east limits the amount of nutrient-rich deep water normally surfaced by the upwelling process. Since fish can no longer access this rich food source, many of them die off. This is why these conditions are called "El Nino", or "the Christ Child", which is what Peruvian fisherman call the particularly bad fishing period around December. More importantly, the different water temperatures tend to change the weather of the region.
What happens to the ocean also affects the atmosphere. Tropical thunderstorms are fueled by hot, humid air over the oceans. The hotter the air, the stronger and bigger the thunderstorms. As the Pacific's warmest water spreads eastward, the biggest thunderstorms move with it. If you look on a map, you will see that suddenly islands like Tahiti, normally tropical paradises, experience massive storms.
The clouds and rainstorms associated with warm ocean waters also shift toward the east. Thus, rains which normally would fall over the tropical rain forests of Indonesia start falling over the deserts of Peru, causing forest fires and drought in the western Pacific and flooding in South America. Moreover the Earth's atmosphere responds to the heating of El-Nino by producing patterns of high and low pressure which can have a profound impact on weather far away from the equatorial Pacific. For instance, higher temperatures in western Canada and the upper plains of the United States, colder temperatures in the southern United States. The east coast of southern Africa often experiences drought during El Nino.
El Nino affect the world in a variety of ways. It is often determined by location which "benefit" or "loss" El Nino might provide. El Nino can have impacts on weather at various locations around the globe. Off the east coast of southern Africa, drought conditions often occur. In countries such as Zimbabwe, the effects of drought can be devastating.
Hurricanes... In an El Nino year, about half as many Atlantic hurricanes make landfall. At the same more Pacific hurricanes occur. Floods.... This year alone El Nino has hit the west coast of the United States with extensive flooding. Droughts... El Nino brings with it droughts in India and Asia as well as other parts of the world Tornados... El Nino tends to affect the number of tornados in the same manner it affects the number of huricanes.
T o r n a d o
As a record El Niño event changes temperature and precipitation patterns over a large part of the globe, it's natural to ask whether these changes have anything to do with the warming air and changing precipitation caused by human beings., the answer is a likely yes-with emphasis on the "likely." But the link is quite complicated, and some questions remain unanswered. Temperature and rainfall change naturally from season to season, but they also change on longer time scales--over the course of several years or decades. El Niño is a naturally occurring, longer-cycle mode of variability or change .When scientists look at the records of climate, the natural variability makes it hard to pick out any changes that may have come from human activities. Even harder is discerning how this natural variability itself could
“El Niño causes floods and droughts throughout the world…global warming is apt to exacerbate these extremes.” Kevin E. Trenberth, Head, Climate Analysis Section, US National Center for Atmospheric Research
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