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Every two to five years the Pacific

experiences a phenomenon that is


known as the El Niño/Southern
Oscillation (ENSO). 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 Dry season plains,
violent rains and destructive floods in Northwest Arnhem Land,
Ecuador and Peru. 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 nutrient-
loaded 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
The clouds and rainstorms associated with
atmosphere. Tropical thunderstorms are
warm ocean waters also shift toward the
fueled by hot, humid air over the oceans.
east. Thus, rains which normally would fall
The hotter the air, the stronger and bigger
over the tropical rain forests of Indonesia
the thunderstorms. As the Pacific's
start falling over the deserts of Peru,
warmest water spreads eastward, the
causing forest fires and drought in the
biggest thunderstorms move with it. If you
western Pacific and flooding in South
look on a map, you will see that suddenly
America. Moreover the Earth's atmosphere
islands like Tahiti, normally tropical
responds to the heating of El-Nino by
paradises, experience massive storms.
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
Temperature remain
and unanswered.
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 “El Niño causes floods and droughts
naturally occurring, longer-cycle throughout the world…global
mode of variability or change .When warming is apt to exacerbate these
scientists look at the records of extremes.”
climate, the natural variability makes
it hard to pick out any changes that Kevin E. Trenberth, Head,
may have come from human Climate Analysis Section, US
activities. Even harder is discerning National Center for Atmospheric
how this natural variability itself could Research
"Let every individual and institution now
think and act as a responsible trustee of
Earth, seeking choices in ecology,
economics and ethics that will provide a
sustainable future, eliminate pollution,
poverty and violence, awaken the wonder
of life and foster peaceful progress in the
human adventure.“

— John McConnell, founder of


International Earth Day

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