El Niño is a warm current in the Pacific Ocean that flows southwards along the West coast of South America. It warms the normally cold waters off the coast of Ecuador and Peru. El Niño, a Spanish term meaning 'the child", usually occurs around Christmas, and its name refers to the Christ child. The warm current occurs to some extent every year, usually lasting from December or January until March. But scientists use the term El Niño to describe a longer event with wide spread effects, which go way beyond the coast of of Ecuador and Peru.
El Niño was first recorded as far back as the early 1500's. Since that time it has returned on the average of once every four years. The massive warming that occurs kills many fish, sea birds, and sea mammals by preventing nutrient-rich cold waters from rising to the surface. El Niño also affects conditions elsewhere in the world. A powerful El Niño in 1982 and 1983 caused severe drought in Australia and Indonesia, and an unusually large number of storms in California. These events happened again with this last El Niño in 1998. It also produced violent rains and destructive floods in Ecuador and Peru.
Scientists believe El Niño is related to a shift in air movements over the tropical Pacific ocean. Changes in wind direction cause changes in the circulation and temperature of the ocean, which in turn further disrupts air movements and ocean currents.
If you have been in California in the last month (February) then you would have surely felt the wrath of El Niño. It has been raining so much that we got our whole year's rain in just one month ! In fact, it has been so cold that kids have been wearing gloves to school and complaining about being cold in their P.E. clothes. Good thing we will have graduated high school the next time El Niño rolls around.
About the Authors
Tamar Khadajourian and Jamie Waller are students in Mr. Keith Abouaf's Integrated Science class at West High School in Torrance, California.
El Niño, Gift of God El Niño Hits Home