What is El Nino

El Nino occurs in the tropical Pacific approximately every three to seven years. El Nino is basically described as a warming in the temperature of the Pacific Ocean. The increase of temperature is caused by winds pushing the surface water from near Asia and Australia west towards the Americas. Because the Pacific has such a vast expanse, it takes a while for the water to reach the Americas. As the water moves across the ocean, the sun warms it up, creating a noticeable increase in temperature.

Scientists study El Nino with a vast buoy system centered on the equator, satellites, as well as sea level analysis. The buoys monitor a variety of things over an expansive region. There are two different kinds of buoys, drifting and moored buoys. Drifting buoys are dropped off and move with the currents, measuring the current speed and temperature. Moored buoys are quite the opposite as they are stationary. It simply measures the currents and temperatures from the specified location. If the measured temperature is higher than usual, then the scientists know that another El Nino has started. However, the temperature can also be lower than usual, an event known as La Nina. Secondly, scientists monitor the water currents in the Pacific. It is important to monitor the water currents because they tell the scientists which direction the water is moving and how quickly it is moving. Water current measurements can then be used to calculate how widespread the El Nino is going to be. Finally, the buoys also monitor the winds above the ocean surface. The direction and speed with which the winds are moving are vital bits of information that are used in combination with the water current measurements to help predict how widespread the El Nino will be.

There are a variety of social and economic impacts from El Nino, only a few of which will be discussed. Socially, humans are greatly affected by El Nino throughout the world. If the El Nino is especially strong, then the torrential rains will cause mudslides and floods which can devastate a population. Economically, El Nino impacts the world. All of the various weather changes cause varying degrees of damage. This damage must be fixed and thus, burden the economies of nations throughout the world. Some of the weather changes are flooding, droughts/fires, and hurricanes. Properties and crops are destroyed each and every time one of these events occurs. To repair the damage, countries spend millions, if not billions. Money spent on El Nino repair is no longer available for worldwide interactions, resulting in a tremendous impact on the economies of the world. Another economic impact is the loss of marine and plant life due to an increase in the ocean temperature. Ocean plants and animals thrive in the colder, nutrient rich, water that is typical of a non-El Nino year. However, during El Nino, the warmer water, which is nutrient deficient, comes in and kills of the marine and plant life. Fishermen are especially hard hit during El Nino seasons as the number of fish significantly decreases.

There are numerous benefits to predicting El Nino. Primarily, people would like to know how strong of an El Nino to expect so that they can plan for the next year’s agriculture. The agriculture industry is greatly affected by El Nino. Some crops do better in wet/dry conditions and so they must plan on which crops to plant for a given season. Should they plant a crop that does best during a wet season, and it turns out that it is an unusually dry season the entire crop may be lost. Another benefit to predicting El Nino is that those in charge of water management will have an opportunity to determine how much water they will need. If, for instance, it is predicted to be a wet year, and we do not receive the amount of rain expected, we could be short of water for that year. Both water management teams and agriculturalists rely on receiving accurate predictions about El Nino.