Tuesday, November 17, 2015

El Niño Will Be Strongest In 15 Years

And now for something completely different.
The El Niño weather phenomenon will be the strongest in fifteen years*, says the World Meteorological Organization (an agency of the UN). Increases in ocean temperatures are larger and more rapid than previously recorded– the Pacific Ocean is 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit above average. Effects of El Niño include severe droughts and flooding, seen not only in California but in Southeast Asia as well, where, in Indonesia, wildfires outbreaks have been devastating the country. Droughts have also been worrying Central America and eastern and southern Africa, where millions are at risk for starvation. Additionally, El Niño will bring heavy rainfall for California, southeastern America, and northwestern Africa.
While El Niño is not caused by climate change directly, it will bear some of the effects. “... This naturally occurring El Niño event and human induced climate change may interact and modify each other in ways which we have never before experienced,” says WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.
The good news, however, (and we all know we need some) is that previous strong El Niños have prepared the world for weather-induced catastrophes. Jarraud adds that "We are better prepared for this event than we have ever been in the past... The level of international, national and local mobilization is truly unprecedented, exemplifying the value of actionable climate information to the society."

*Sources vary.

-Do you think the strength of El Niño will change the course of climate change debates? Why or why not?
-Since this is a global phenomenon that affects the United States, do you believe we have a responsibility to give aid to those more severely affected in other countries?



Brianna Panozzo said...

To your first question, yes I think that the el Niño will alter climate change debate since even though it does not stem from an increasing climate, but rather from natural climate change, it does has the potential to increase the temperature of the atmosphere. During an el Niño, the surface of the ocean warms in in the pacific ocean, especially near Chile and Peru, and this heating can warm the atmosphere in return. However, this slight change in temperature probably won't be enough proof to convince everyone, especially the 7% of Americans, especially republicans, who don't believe in global warming. New statistics from a change due to the el Niño could potentially help democratic candidates with strong roots in global warming and hurt republicans who mock the idea. If no real change occurs, then the republicans will most likely use that to their advantage. I guess we will just have to see.

Do we have a responsibility? Yes. Yes because if a tragedy does occur, especially one fairly close to us, we do have the ability to help save lives, so why not? Anything can help, just sending supplies would suffice. It would be strange for us to not send any aid at all, especially looking back on all the aid we send in crises all over the world. We don't have to do anything massive, like let hundred of thousands of people take refuge here, but we could send volunteers and supplies fairly easily. Why let people die when we can help?


Anonymous said...

To answer your first question, I do not think that El Nino will cause any change in the climate change debate. This year, El Nino is supposed to be particularly strong, but that is just the nature of the phenomenon. Some El Ninos are weak, and some are strong. The warming of the waters around the eastern Pacific happen because under normal circumstances, winds push towards the west, which pushes all of the warm surface water to the eastern Pacific ocean, causing cold, nutrient rich water to "upwell" near the coast of the Americas. During an El Nino year, these winds either weaken, stop, and in some instances, even reverse, which causes an excess of warm water to build up on the coast of the Americas INSTEAD of being pushed away by the wind. Brianna was correct in saying that this, in turn, results in warmer atmospheric temperatures in the regions affected, but this change is only temporary. After El Nino, the temperatures will not remain the same, both in the water and in the air. This is an entirely natural occurrence, so I do not think that it is going to stimulate more climate change talk. El Nino is not caused by climate change.
In regards to your second question, I say perhaps. I think the first priority of the United States should be preparation for possible heavy rains in Southern California. In the past, powerful El Ninos that produced heavy rains (not all do) have caused heavy damage in the form of flooding and traffic jams, especially in socal (and South America). If the lack of rainfall causes some catastrophic disaster in another country (which is unlikely...El Nino is not like a huge hurricane. It is a weather pattern), I am sure that the United States will help out, along with other countries, but I would not say that the U.S. is obligated to provide aid to any country that suffers minor setbacks from El Nino.
Good article.

Jeffrey Song said...

I agree with Nick on the first question that the El Nino will not alter the climate change debate in any significant shape or form. As you mentioned in your post and in the article, since the El Nino is not caused by climate change directly as its a naturally occurring event, there will be no legitimate way to blame the global climate change on the El Nino this year.

I think that the second question raises far more debate and is a complex issue. On one hand, like Brianna said, the US should have the obligation to provide foreign humanitarian aid to countries in need (which we already do on a pretty large-scale). However, like the article mentioned about the countries being more well-prepared in case of a natural disaster caused by El Nino and the NOAA reports: "scientists are now taking our understanding of El Ninos a step further by incorporating the description and likelihood of these events into numerical prediction models", the global awareness and reactionary measures taken against El Nino and similar weather-caused disasters have been greatly strengthened over the past decade. With the advancements in science, we will now be able to predict generally the course and potential effects of the El Nino before it actually occurs, allowing for even greater cautionary measures to be put in place and preventing large-scale damage. Ultimately, the US should and does give substantial humanitarian aid should circumstances arise requiring it, but the El Ninos will probably not end up doing as much damage as most people think. It may be the "strongest" one yet, but the defenses against it are certainly strong as well.


Cami Nemschoff said...

In response to the first question asked, like a few of the others, I do not think the El Nino will alter the discussion of climate change. People who resist the idea that climate change is happening/human caused seem to reject statistics in general so one more scientific example is doubtful to change their minds. Additionally, because the El Nino is not 100% caused by global warming, it is likely that those who don't "believe" in global warming would reject human actions as any sort of the cause.

Additionally, I think that the US should help other countries who will be affected by the El Nino. As a developed country, we have the luxury of being prepared and having the proper resources to deal with the El Nino. However, many other countries are not as fortunate and could likely be greatly damaged by the coming El Nino. First and foremost, we should handle the US's problems and become fully prepared for the El Nino, but once we are adequately prepared we should aid other countries in need.

If you refer to https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1866/OFDA_Fact_Sheet.pdf from the USAID office of US foreign disaster assistance, it is shown that during natural disasters, the US plays a large helping role for countries that are affected. Each year the US helps over 50 countries with over 70 natural disasters. The budget for foreign assistance is about 1% of the American budget, according to the website, so America does have money stored to help countries dealing with things such as the El Nino.

Lea Tan said...

I agree with Nick and Jeff that an unusually strong El Nino will not really change climate change debates because it is a naturally occurring event. However, I do think that it will shed a lot more light on the subject because people will be forced to pay attention to droughts and flooding. It is clear that California and many other areas will get a lot of rain this winter which will cause flooding (of course, in the Aragon parking lot and science wing as well). I think the heavy rains can be a bit misleading, because, as we are in a bad drought, precipitation seems like a really good thing, but the floods are predicted to be worse than they ever have been. Furthermore, according to an article in the LA Times, the chance that El Nino will end the drought is "virtually an impossibility. California’s mountainous north would need 2.5 times to three times its average precipitation to end this drought, and the record is just nearly double the average annual rain and snowfall." At least within California, El Nino is likely to have a big impact while it is occurring, but once the storms subside, we will resume to struggle in drought. Thus, I do not think El Nino will have much of an impact on climate change debates.

I also agree that the US should aid those affected by El Nino because like Cami mentioned, the US government does have a budget for foreign assistance that is used for natural disasters. I think the issue would be deciding which countries we could help because many countries are affected by El Nino, and the US would have to decide whether we could aid all of them or if we would have to put more funds into specific countries (assuming all countries were affected evenly by the storms).