NASA image shows the warm water pool in the eastern Pacific during the El Niño event in 1997.
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences claims to have discovered a better way of forecasting the periodic warming in the eastern equatorial Pacific, known as El Niño events. These events are closely linked to severe weather in Latin America and thousands of miles further away, as far as Australia, Africa and North America.
The German-led team of researchers says that this can help communities prepare better for crop losses, floods and droughts. The scientists analysed more than 200 measurement points in the Pacific dating back to the 1950s. The interactions between points helped predict whether an El Niño event would happen and also seemed able to predict it a year in advance, instead of the usual 6 months. The study also found that the new technique is more reliable than current methods of forecasting.
‘Enhancing the preparedness of people in the affected regions by providing more early warning time is key to avoiding some of the worst effects of El Niño,’ says Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
El Niño (Spanish for ‘the child’) is part of a more general system of oscillations, which also includes the La Niña which refers to the cooling in the eastern Pacific. Although this study only looks at El Niño events, researchers describe this as the ‘most important phenomenon of contemporary natural climate variability.’