What is El Niño?
El Niño is a climate pattern that describes the unusual warming of surface waters in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. El Niño is the “warm phase” of a larger phenomenon called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). La Niña, the “cool phase” of ENSO, is a pattern that describes the unusual cooling of the region’s surface waters.
El Niño and La Niña are mainly linked to trade winds in the Pacific Ocean that blow westward along the equator. Normally, this blows warmer surface waters from South America toward Asia, which are in turn replaced by cooler deep ocean waters in a process known as upwelling. During El Niño, the trade winds weaken, which leads to reduced upwelling and in turn warmer surface waters. During La Niña, the trade winds are unusually strong, which has the opposite effect.
Both events can trigger extreme weather events around the world, such as droughts, floods, storms, and wildfires.
How will El Niño increase the temperature of Earth?
According to experts, there is a high chance that an El Niño event will begin in the next few months and persist into 2024. This could have a widespread impact on global temperatures and weather patterns. El Niño events tend to raise the average global temperature by about 0.1°C (0.18°F), as more heat is released from the ocean into the atmosphere4. This may not sound like much, but it can make a big difference for some regions that are already experiencing the effects of climate change.
For example, El Niño events can cause:
- More heat waves and droughts in Australia, Indonesia, India, Brazil, and southern Africa.
- More rainfall and flooding in eastern Africa, South America, and the southern US.
- More tropical cyclones in the eastern Pacific and fewer in the Atlantic.
- More wildfires in California and other parts of the western US.
El Niño events can also affect marine ecosystems, as warmer waters reduce the availability of nutrients and oxygen for fish and other organisms. This can lead to coral bleaching, fish die-offs, and changes in migration patterns.
How can we prepare for El Niño?
El Niño events are natural and unpredictable, but they can be monitored and forecasted by scientists using satellites, buoys, and models. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) are among the agencies that provide regular updates and warnings about El Niño conditions.
Knowing what to expect from El Niño can help governments, communities, and individuals to plan ahead and reduce the risks of disasters. Some of the actions that can be taken include:
- Storing water and food supplies in case of droughts or floods.
- Implementing water conservation measures and irrigation systems for agriculture.
- Building flood defenses and improving drainage systems for urban areas.
- Strengthening emergency response and relief systems for affected populations.
- Protecting marine habitats and fisheries from overexploitation and pollution.
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing adaptation to climate change.
El Niño is a powerful force of nature that can have significant impacts on our planet. By understanding its causes and consequences, we can better prepare for its challenges and opportunities.