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Thursday, 9 April, 1998, 22:24 GMT 23:24 UK
Global warming 'may cause El Ni¿o'
forest fire
Forest fires in Brazil have been fuelled by the worst drought in 30 years brought about the El Ni¿o
The destructive El Niño weather pattern may be linked to rising temperatures over the last 40 years, according to the top weather agency in the United States.

Commenting for the first time on the relationship between El Niño and global warming, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said the unusual and extreme weather of the past winter may be a "window on the future".

tornado damage
Tornadoes in Florida this year caused widespread devastation
"El Niño is a taste of what we might expect if the Earth warms as we now project," said the NOAA's Chief Administrator, James Baker.

Torrential rains in California and Peru in the last few months were part of El Niño, as were droughts and fires in many parts of south-east Asia and Brazil.

El Niño is a weather pattern characterised by a movement of warm water currents in the Pacific Ocean to areas farther north than usual, which brings radical changes to weather around the planet.

El Niño 'occurring more often than usual'

A spokeswoman stopped short of directly linking El Niño and global warming, but said that the increasing incidence of El Niño in recent decades correlated with rising temperatures.

"El Niño is not global warming, but the two are related," said Lori Arguelles of the NOAA.

Burning of fossil fuels could be adding to global warming
"We've been seeing more frequent El Niños in the last 40 years, but El Niño has been occurring for thousands of years," she said.

Record temperatures and rainfall in January and February prompted the agency to make its statement.

"This winter's El Niño ranks as one of the major climatic events of this century," Mr Baker said in the statement. He pointed out that weather in the US during the winter was the warmest and wettest in 104 years.

"When you look more closely at the numbers, you also see that this record-breaking El Niño is consistent with a worldwide trend over the last 40 years toward a warmer and wetter world," he said.

"We can't draw a causal link between El Niño and global warming, but our modelling tells us that global warming may first manifest itself in changes in weather patterns."

Scientists agree pollution is a factor

Scientists are in broad agreement that human activities such as burning fossil fuels are behind climate records showing that the Earth is warming up.

But they are also loathe to comment too specifically on weather as it relates to global warming since the science of global warming deals specifically with temperature and not with the weather changes those temperatures may help create.

According to the agency, weather records show that the average global temperature has risen 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit (0.61 Celsius) over the past century, and is projected to rise another two to six degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 to 3.3C) by the year 2100.

This is a faster rate of change than any that has occurred on the planet in the last 10,000 years, it said.

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