Magazine article Geographical

El Nino: A Freak of Nature?

Magazine article Geographical

El Nino: A Freak of Nature?

Article excerpt

What is it? El Nino is a natural phenomenon whereby large areas of the surface of the tropical eastern and central Pacific Ocean are warmed.

How does it occur? Essentially, the southeast trade winds periodically weaken to a point that allows the warmer waters of the western Pacific--which have been 'piled up' by a period of constant wind--to slosh back eastwards. The warmer the water in the eastern Pacific, the weaker the trade winds become, leading to a complete collapse of normal conditions.

How did the name originate? The term El Nino was originally given by Peruvian fisherman to a seasonal warm ocean current that flows southwards along the South American coast. This phenomenon generally occurs around Christmas, so the fishermen named it El Nino, or 'Christ child'. The term was later adopted to refer to the anomalous warming of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. (The cold counterpart to El Nino is called La Nina.)

How does it affect weather patterns? El Nino causes the largest and most damaging year-to-year changes in the world's climate. Furthermore, it's accompanied by changes in the atmosphere that extend well beyond the tropical Pacific.

The most severe effects are found close to the equator. …

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