Global warming doubles risk of extreme La Nina event, study shows

La Nina
Sea surface skin temperature anomalies in November 2007 showing La Niña conditions. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

The risk of extreme La Niña events in the Pacific Ocean could double due to global warming, new research has shown.

The projected twofold increase in the frequency of this potentially devastating weather phenomenon across the globe could lead to increased droughts in south-western United States, floods in the western Pacific regions and Atlantic hurricanes.

Furthermore, with around 70 per cent of these increased La Niña events projected to follow immediately after an extreme El Niño event, parts of the world could experience weather patterns that switch between extremes of wet and dry.

The latest collaborative international research saw scientists, including Professor Mat Collins from the University of Exeter, use state-of-the-art climate modelling to determine how global warming will influence the frequency of future extreme La Niña events.

The findings are published in the leading scientific journal, Nature Climate Change.

El Niño and La Niña events are opposite phases of the natural climate phenomenon, the El Niño/Southern Oscillation. Extreme La Niña events occur when cold sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean contrast with the warming land areas of Maritime Southeast Asia in the west and create a strong temperature gradient.

The new research suggests that increased land warming, coupled with an increase in frequency of extreme El Niño events, will mean extreme La Niña could occur every 13 years, rather than the 23 years previously seen.

Co-author Professor Collins, from Exeter's College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences explained: "Our previous research showed a doubling in frequency of extreme El Niño events, and this new study shows a similar fate for the cold phase of the cycle. It shows again how we are just beginning to understand the consequences of ."

The new research was led by scientist Dr Wenju Cai, from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and featured scientists from Australia, China, the US, France and Peru.

Dr Cai indicated the potential impact of this change in climate. He said: "An increased frequency in extreme La Niña events, most of which occur in the year after an extreme El Niño, would mean an increase in the occurrence of devastating weather events with profound socio-economic consequences."

Explore further

Researchers construct a model of impact for El Nino / La Nina events

More information: Research paper: 10.1038/nclimate2492
Journal information: Nature Climate Change

Citation: Global warming doubles risk of extreme La Nina event, study shows (2015, January 26) retrieved 22 September 2019 from
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Jan 26, 2015
This is an example of the Media's coverage of climate change


In fact it is the snowiest decade on record


Jan 26, 2015
More energy into the system = more intense weather.

Not very surprising.

Jan 26, 2015
Shootist links to a denial site which cherry picks the "snowiest decade in the east coast." Given that the U.S. is only 2% of the globe, the East Coast must be some fraction of that.
The regular "skeptic" posters are not even attempting to make valid points anymore.
For those who do care about science and their fellow human beings, it is very bad news that 2014 was so hot without an El Nino. The next El Nino is likely to cause more problems than the last.
If the study's conclusion turns out to be correct (no point in having an opinion on a paper until other scientists have had a chance to review and corroborate it), then things are turning ugly.

Jan 27, 2015
@nevermark: Didn't you know? The east coast is the center of the universe. Anything that happens there is happening to everyone else too.

Jan 27, 2015
There will always be global warming and global cooling. 4 billion years of Eath's history dictates it. The only way to stop climate change is to remove Earth's atmosphere.

What is it with denierville and this particular fact lately? Do they somehow think that climate scientists aren't aware that the Earth's climate is dynamic and ever changing? It's like some kind of mantra: Study X notes severe permafrost degregation in Alaska. "yea, well climate has changed in the last billions of years". Study Y shows increasing melt in West Antarctica "Yea well, climate has been changing for the last billions of years". It's like they are down to their last argument, so they hang on to it like a drowning man holding a life jacket.

I guess I shouldn't complain too much though. At least they admit there is warming.

Jan 27, 2015
I thought that a stronger elNino would heat the pacific up along the west coast bringing rain to California and the desert South West. Isn't that good news?

Jan 27, 2015
I thought that a stronger elNino would heat the pacific up along the west coast bringing rain to California and the desert South West. Isn't that good news?

Only for California and the Southwest. It is very bad for Australia, Indonesia, Peru, Ecuador,etc.

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