The Heat Is Online

Warming Threatens Permanent El Nino

El Nino may move in to stay:

Study cites pace of global warming

The Boston Globe April 22, 1999 (Associated Press)

Conditions like El Nino might settle in almost permanently if global warming gets bad enough, making climate disruptions such as droughts or excessive winter rain the norm, a computer study suggests.

That might happen around the year 2050 if nothing is done to control emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, said researcher Mojib Latif of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany.

El Nino is a natural phenomenon that involves a surface warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean around the equator. It happens every three to four years on average. It can disrupt climate around the world, producing extra rain in the southeastern United States and in Peru during the winter, while causing drought in the western Pacific, for example.

The computer simulation suggests that unrestrained global warming could set up the same kind of pattern in ocean surface temperatures, but as a more or less constant condition.

Latif and colleagues report their findings in the April 22, 1999 issue of the journal Nature.

The study suggests that the Pacific would warm more in the east than the west. That is because the western part is already so warm that with further heating it would spawn clouds that provide cooling shade, Latif said.

The El Nino-like temperature pattern might be broken every five years or so by a strong cooling like the periodic phenomenon called La Nina, he added.

But Latif said scientists have ''a long way to go'' before they can be sure the study's conclusions are correct.

Gerald Meehl of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., agreed it will take more study to understand how global warming might affect El Nino. Studies have disagreed on whether the warming would produce the El Nino-like Pacific surface temperatures, he said.

This story ran on page A23 of the Boston Globe on 04/22/99.
Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.