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Jan 20, 2014 10:15 AM EST

Global Warming Will Double Frequency of Extreme El Nino Weather Events Like Droughts and Floods

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The world is due for an extreme El Niño weather event and, if global warming is left unchecked, they will double in frequency to occur at least once per decade.

Weather events associated with an El Niño are droughts, floods, severe heat waves, cyclones and wildfires. According to the Guardian, researchers published a study in the journal Nature Climate Change that more El Niños would have detrimental socioeconomic effects.

"This is a highly unexpected consequence of global warming," study researcher Mat Collins, of the University of Exeter, told the Guardian. "Previously we had thought that El Niño would be unaffected by climate change. Tropical rainfall conditions such as those experienced in extreme El Niños have a dramatic influence on the world... the impact therefore on mankind is substantial."

The last extreme El Niño came in 1997-1998 and the weather events killed approximately 23,000 people and cost billions in damage. Before that, the most recent El Niño came in 1982-1983. Perhaps the most devastating cost of these weather events is food production since it can be ruined by each and every one.

"The question of how global warming will change the frequency of extreme El Niño events has challenged scientists for more than 20 years," study co-author Dr. Mike McPhaden, of U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in a press release. "This research is the first comprehensive examination of the issue to produce robust and convincing results."

For the study, the researchers examined how changing temperatures affect clouds and currents in the real world and used their observations to make a model. They found rising global temperatures would warm the tropical Pacific most, a region where El Niños are driven more rapidly than any other.

The University of Oxford's Dr. Myles Allen, an expert on climate modeling, told the Guardian the study with which he was not associated gives a fair assessment, but will not go unchallenged.

"It is a very reasonable paper and a very sensible approach. In the past people said models disagreed on changes to El Niño, but a lot of models simulated El Niño very badly," he said. "I doubt it is the last word on the subject. It would be good to repeat this study with the computer models used for seasonal weather forecasting, which have higher spatial resolution than climate change models."

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