Combination of climate change and El Niño could lead to spike in global warming, says Michel Jarraud
By Ed King
There are growing signs the weather phenomenon known as El Niño could develop this year, causing global temperatures to soar, the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation has warned.
In a statement the WMO said: “Temperatures below the surface of the tropical Pacific have warmed to levels that can occur prior to the onset of an El Nino event, while climate models surveyed by WMO experts show a steady warming of the tropical Pacific during the months ahead.”
El Niño is one of the most potent weather events on the plant, affecting the Americas, Australia and Africa.
Its signature is unusually warm ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific.
The opposite of the La Niña phenomenon, which is associated with cooling, it has a significant impact on climate in many parts of the world and has a warming influence across the planet.
“El Niño has an important warming effect on global average temperatures, as we saw during the strong El Niño in 1998” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.
“Only two out of the past 15 years were categorized as El Niño years, and yet all were warmer than average.
“The combination of natural warming from any El Niño event and human-induced warming from greenhouse gases has the potential to cause dramatic rise in global mean temperature.”
A study published last October in the journal Nature suggested scientists are increasingly certain global warming is having an effect on the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO).
They said droughts around the western Pacific Ocean and rainfall increases in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific driven by El Nino will be more intense as a result – perhaps as soon as 2050.
Another piece of research, published in the journal Nature Climate Change in January 2014 said extreme El Nino events could double in frequency to once a decade without curbs in greenhouse gas emissions.
The last ‘extreme’ El Nino was in 1997-1998, killing thousands and causing an estimated £21bn-£28bn in damage.