El Nino and Global Warming

Long Term Warming Trends in the Pacific

El NiÒo and Global Warming - Long Term Warming Trends in the Pacific

Tong Lee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and Michael McPhaden of NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle recently published a study in Geophysical Research Letters that reported measured changes in El Niño intensity since 1982. The study analyzed NOAA satellite observations of sea surface temperature, and ocean temperature data to find that the intensity of El Niño has almost doubled in the central Pacific. Lee and McPhaden believe that stronger El Niño(s) explain the rise in central Pacific sea surface temperatures that have been reported during the past decades and may be attributed to the effects of global warming. “Our study concludes the long-term warming trend seen in the central Pacific is primarily due to more intense El Niño(s), rather than a general rise of background temperatures,” Lee reported, while McPhaden states that “These results suggest climate change may already be affecting El Niño by shifting the center of action from the eastern to the central Pacific.” While El Niño(s) have a big impact on the ocean and atmosphere, they also can influence global weather patterns, the occurrence and frequency of hurricanes, droughts and floods, and can raise or lower global temperatures by as much as 0.2 degrees Celsius (0.4 degrees Fahrenheit). Since the 1990’s scientists have also noted that a new type of El Niño, one that is found in the central-equatorial rather than eastern Pacific, has occurred more frequently. It is predicted that this new type of El Niño will become more frequent as global warming continues, although Lee believes that further research is needed to evaluate the impacts of these progressively more intense El Niño(s) as well as determine why the changes are occurring.  Nevertheless, the scientists are hopeful that their research may improve overall understanding of the relationship between El Niño and climate change, as well as have important implications for long-term weather forecasting.

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