El Niño and climate change to worsen Australian droughts

New research by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology finds that El Niño will intensify between 2050 and 2100, and it’s due to climate change.

A complex interplay between sea and air in the tropical Pacific, referred to as El Niño, controls much of our weather patterns. When El Niño occurs, central and eastern parts of the Pacific Ocean warm more than usual, and the ocean off eastern Australia cools. The warmer areas will see more rainfall and the cooler areas will see less precipitation – lower average rainfall or even drought. La Niña, El Niño’s partner, has the opposite effect.

Four different climate models used by the researchers produced agreement on the decreasing rainfall forecast for eastern Australia’s future. The last couple of decades of research on how climate change might affect El Niño have yielded much uncertainty and disagreement between models, but these researchers have used the latest generation of climate models, and have uncovered agreement on a consistent forecast for El Niño’s future. Warming interferes with the impact of El Niño on rainfall, intensifying the drying effect in the Western Pacific and heavier rains in the eastern and central Pacific: El Niño droughts and floods of the future will be more extreme.