There are starting to be a lot of news reports about a strong El Niño being on the way later this year. El Niño is a weather phenomenon that occurs in the eastern tropical Pacific every two to seven years. East-to-west trade winds weaken and ocean surface temperatures go up. The result impacts the weather throughout the Pacific region.
El Niños can be strong or weak. Forecasters are saying that the one that is arising this year is a strong one, possibly one of the strongest ever.
There are many effects associated with El Niños. Californians could see large amounts of rain, which might be a good thing. Peru can experience heavy rains and destructive flooding conditions. Southeast Asia and Australia, on the other hand, could see severe drought conditions. El Niños also transfer heat from the deeper parts of the oceans to the surface, leading to record heat waves. In general, it is difficult to predict just what will happen in a strong El Niño event, but extreme weather events are likely.
One place where a powerful El Niño is a cause for great concern is the Galapagos Islands. The strong winds, heavy rains and warmer than usual ocean currents that arise from an El Niño can drastically affect the fragile Galapagos ecosystem. The effects are especially acute for marine iguanas, that feed only on algae that can be decimated by these conditions. Previous El Niños devastated corals, penguins, sea lions, cormorants and marine iguanas in the Galapagos. All concerned parties can do at this point is hope for the best.
Photo, posted October 28, 2007, courtesy of Almaz UK via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.