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Friday, November 7, 1997 Published at 22:44 GMT


El Nino here to stay

African drought is just one of El Nino's effects

Scientists are warning that global warming could make the El Nino a permanent feature of the world's weather system.

El Nino events normally occur roughly every 5 years, and last for between 12 and 18 months. However unpublished scientific research now suggests that the complex weather systems could occur every 3 years, making them a dominant weather pattern and in effect, almost permanent.

This year's El Nino has been one of the strongest on record and has led to:

  • Droughts in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

  • Delayed monsoon in South East Asia leaving forest fires to rage out of control, blanketing the region with choking smog.

  • Storms on the Pacific coast of South and Central America from Chile to Mexico.

  • Drought in Southern Africa.

  • Threat of floods in Peru and California

In the last decade there have been 5 El Nino's, and some scientists believe that rising greenhouse gases and global warming.

[ image: Indonesian smog is equivalent to 40 cigarettes per day]
Indonesian smog is equivalent to 40 cigarettes per day
That's a theory endorsed by Dr Russ Schnell, a scientist doing atmospheric research at Mauna Loa Observatory, 11,000 feet up on Hawaii. "It appears that we have a very good case for suggesting that the El Ninos are going to become more frequent, and they're going to become more intense and in a few years, or a decade or so, we'll go into a permanent El Nino."

"So instead of having cool water periods for a year or two, we'll have El Nino upon El Nino, and that will become the norm. And you'll have an El Nino, that instead of lasting 18 months, lasts 18 years," he said.

[ image: Incas sacrificed 80 people to stop El Nino]
Incas sacrificed 80 people to stop El Nino
El Nino events have been occurring for thousands of years. It is a natural phenomenon that has always had a profound effect on those who live within its influence.

High in the Peruvian Andes, archeologists have discovered the skeletons of what they believe are human sacrifices, linked to El Nino events, at Inca temples of the Sun and the Moon.

Dr Steve Bourget from the University of East Anglia believes the 80 victims were sacrificed to placate the Gods during El Nino rainstorms. "On the north coast of Peru it almost never rains ... it rains like this only during the time of Nino's."

He continued, "So that's why, during an El Nino event the temple was itself just melting down and they probably did the sacrifice in order to try and stop the rains."

Of course, the Inca priest's ceremonies were in vain, and if the scientists predictions are accurate, so might the best efforts of 21st century technology.

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  Internet Links

World Metereological Association

What is El Nino? NOAA.

El Nino Southern Ossicilation homepage

World Climate Programme

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