El Niño More Intense Over Past Thirty Years, Causes and Impacts Unkown

Thomas Schueneman

Researchers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have published a study (pdf) in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, showing how the El Niño weather phenomenon has doubled in intensity over the past 30 years while drifting westward.

El Nino intensifies and drifts westward according to new research

What the cause of these changes to are is uncertain, including whether man-made global warming is a factor. Tong Lee, an author of the study and an oceanographer for JPL said more research is needed to determine the reason for the changes in El Niño over the past three decades. Tong noted, however, the impact El Niño has on global climate:

El Niño is the largest fluctuation of the climate system," he said. "It has worldwide impact on climate patterns, so any change in El Niño's behavior might cause a change in its impact."

JPL climatologist Bill Patzert, who was not involved in the report, said that 30 years isn't enough time to "draw definite conclusions" as to the cause of the changes - but the changes are very real and its impacts will likely be profound.

It is too early to tell," Patzert said. "The one thing we know is that the future ain't what it used to be. The planet is definitely warming, and El Niño has morphed into something different."

"This is another piece of evidence that the climate is shifting," he added. "It is clear that in the last century the planet has warmed by almost two degrees Fahrenheit. More than 80% of that is taken up by oceans. Oceans are the canary in the coal mine."

Sources and further reading:
Los Angeles Times
NOAA El Niño page


Oceans & Forests