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El Niños to strengthen because of global warming, will cause 'more extreme weather', study says

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 12/12/2018 Doyle Rice
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El Niños will be stronger and more frequent in the decades ahead  because of global warming, causing "more extreme events" in the United States and around the world, a study said Wednesday.

A natural phenomenon marked by warmer-than-average seawater in the tropical Pacific Ocean, El Niño is Earth's most influential climate pattern. A weak one is forecast to form at some point this winter, federal scientists have said.

Rather than once every 15 years, powerful El Niños will occur roughly once every 10 years, said study lead author Wenju Cai, a scientist with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia.

Researchers used 17 climate models to determine how ocean temperatures will increase by 2100 as levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases increase in Earth's atmosphere. 

They found that the physical processes in the ocean and atmosphere that produce strong El Niños will be supercharged by human-caused climate change. 

The entire natural climate cycle is officially known as El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which swings between warmer and cooler seawater in the tropical Pacific. Cooler-than-average ocean water is known as La Niña. The cycle is the primary factor government scientists consider when announcing their winter weather forecast.

Strong El Niños can lead to floods in the western United States, Ecuador and northeast Peru and to droughts in nations that border the western Pacific Ocean, the study finds. 

During extreme El Niños, marine life in the eastern Pacific can die off, and mass bleaching of corals across the Pacific and beyond can occur.

The study was published in Nature, a peer-reviewed British journal.

A new El Niño forecast will be released by federal scientists from the Climate Prediction Center on Thursday.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: El Niños to strengthen because of global warming, will cause 'more extreme weather', study says

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