Adding to the grim list of record ice losses, record air temperatures and record droughts, which have all hit the headlines recently, the temperature of the surface waters of our oceans is also at an all-time high. With an El Niño looming, concerns are that we will soon be facing even worse extremes. Satellites orbiting overhead are being used to carefully track the patterns that lead up to El Niño to further understand and predict the consequences of this cyclic phenomenon against the backdrop of climate change.
The coupled ocean–atmosphere system of El Niño and La Niña, together known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation, are drivers of significant variations in global temperature and precipitation, on top of the warming trend caused by climate change.
El Niño occurs every few years when the trade winds weaken allowing warm water in the western Pacific Ocean to shift eastward, bringing with it changes in wind patterns and ocean dynamics. This can have a significant impact on weather around the world, leading to changes in ecosystems and fisheries, droughts, floods and storms, amongst others.
Climate models suggest that after three years of La Niña, which has a general cooling effect on the planet, in the next few months we will face a return to the more troublesome El Niño.