Climate Change Means More El Ninos

Warming in the Pacific spells trouble

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Time to invest in some weatherproofing.     Photo: Getty Images

The occurance of the extreme weather phenomenon known as El Nino is expected to double, says new climate research. Devastating weather events such as floods, wildfires, and droughts could increase in severity and cost between $35 billion and $45 billion in damage and economic disruption.

The findings are the result of collaboration between the ARC Center of Excellence for Climate System Science (CoECSS), NOAA, and CSIRO. The collaboration was meant to foster a better understanding of how climate change has affected El Nino events around the globe. What they found was a clear link between global warming and the occurrence of extreme weather events during El Nino cycles.

Extreme El Nino events tend to occur when temperatures exceed 28 degrees Celsius (82.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the eastern equatorial part of the Pacific. Global warming has made those conditions much more common. The team ran 20 different climate simulation models and found that in each case, the warming of the Pacific Ocean lead to a "substantial" increase in extreme El Nino events.

"We currently experience an unusually strong El Nino event every 20 years. Our research shows this will double to one event every ten years," says CoECSS's Agus Santoso, who co-authored the final study. "El Nino events are a multi-dimensional problem and only now are we starting to understand better how they respond to global warming."

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