This year’s El Niño is expected to be among the worst ever recorded, according to data released by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Experts from this intergovernmental agency of the United Nations, specialized on meteorology, made this announcement on Monday.
El Niño is one of the periodic phases of climate change known as El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and manifests itself through the warming of a section of ocean water in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific.
It is a well-documented fact that our planet experiences much higher temperatures during El Niño years than normally, having to face severe heat waves, drought and wildfires. In addition, this climate event disrupts usual patterns of rainfall, triggering extreme phenomena such as hurricanes, flooding and ice storms.
El Niño is also detrimental to wildlife, because it boosts coral bleaching and lowers the production of phytoplankton, leaving marine species foraging for food in vain. Moreover, it even puts humans at risk, because it increases the prevalence of diseases transmitted through mosquitoes, such as Rift Valley Fever, malaria and dengue fever.
Apparently, this year’s ENSO warm phase has already reached significant proportions, and it is predicted that it will intensify even more by the end of the year. It might actually become the most destructive El Niño recorded in the last 15 years, U.N. meteorologists have warned.
So far, the warming it has brought about has caused average ocean temperatures in the central tropical Pacific to be 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than normal, which is an unprecedented rise.
In October, NOAA has also announced that we are now in the midst of the third global coral bleaching event in history, and reefs are especially under threat in Hawaii, Haiti, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, as well as between the U.S. Virgin Islands southwards and Windward islands.
If warming persists unabated for 3 consecutive months, this means the severity of El Niño could be comparable to its 3 previous major instances since the 1950’s : in 1972-1973, 1982-1983 and 1997-1998.
According to WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud, this year’s phenomenon might even surpass these highly destructive events, as it will be peaking the following months, and eventually lose strength in late spring.
Luckily, much more numerous preemptive measures have been taken this year to mitigate potential damages and to forecast disasters accurately, before they strike.
For example, countries which are more severely stricken by this change in climate patterns have devised contingency plans, and have a much more reliable disaster management strategy this time. This might help limit the overwhelming effect El Niño is bound to have on farming, aquaculture and commercial fishing.
On the other hand, what is particularly alarming is the fact that this natural phenomenon will cause additional pressure on the ecosystem, which is already affected by man-made global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
Average temperatures had already reached record-breaking values even before El Niño started, and the world had already been experiencing snowpack shrinkage, major glacier retreat, and continuously warming ocean waters.
Therefore, despite the fact that authorities may be more well-prepared now for tackling extreme weather challenges, what is bound to come might prove impossible to counter.
While scientists are reluctant to admit that man-made climate change might be causing El Niño to be more potent and calamitous, it is expected that heatwaves will be much more common and deadly, and broader regions will face flooding risk.
Moreover, there will be numerous tropical cyclones in the Pacific Ocean, as well as tidal waves, tsunamis and surges, due to the fact that sea levels will be rising even further.
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