Climate Change To Make El Niño And La Niña Less Predictable

Aug 22, 2019

Jan Cortes 

Although unbeknown to many, the intricate relationship between our atmosphere and our oceans is best shown in the eastern Pacific. As a response to the trade winds, the ocean’s surface typically cools and warms in a cycle. This then, results to alternating rainfall patterns, whose extreme ends of the spectrum are typically recognized by people as El Niño and La Niña and is commonly associated with either mean floods or intense droughts.

Surprisingly enough, these two events are a natural part of the global climate system. Because of this, keeping a close watch on the call-and-response relationship that happens on the eastern Pacific can give people a good indication whether an El Niño or a La Niña is coming.

However, a new study suggests that predicting them may soon be harder than previously expected, thanks to climate change.

As a natural part of our climate system, it’s no surprise that both El Niño and La Niña would be affected by the warming atmosphere and waters. Per climate scientists, this would result in a more sluggish gas exchange that might weaken how the Atlantic affects the Pacific. According to them, this could mean that future El Niños and La Niñas might not follow the Atlantic events in the past that we’ve come to known as reliable warning indicators. Not only that, but it could also make the events more disruptive such as more intense droughts and stronger hurricanes.

“So it’s going to be harder to predict the Pacific extreme El Niño and extreme La Niña,” Wenju Cai, study co-author and a climate scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Aspendale, Australia, said.

However, they also warned that while these findings are plausible, caution must still be taken into consideration when they are being interpreted since computer simulations can’t accurately copy true-to-life ocean-atmosphere interactions.

Still, climate change will definitely affect these two climate events, for better or for worse. For example, both are now expected to happen more frequently, and both are also set to be much more intense than the ones we have had over the past few decades.


Variations in temperature and rainfall naturally occur every now and again, and scientists believe that this is still mainly to blame for the persistent drought in California. Bert Kaufmann, CC BY 2.0.


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