Scientists have long debated climate change’s relation to these notorious weather systems: El Niño and La Niña. But a new study says global warming is intensifying both much faster than expected. By 2030, climate change will significantly strengthen both weather systems.

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El Niño and La Niña are both departures from normal conditions in the Pacific Ocean, where trade winds blowing west along the equator direct warm South American water towards Asia. Cold water upwells from the depths, replacing the warm water. El Niño is the weather system where the trade winds calm down and warm water is pushed east, toward the U.S. west coast. This makes the northern U.S. and Canada warmer and dryer than normal, while bringing more rain and increased flood risk to the gulf coast and the southeast.

Related: Concerns over extreme 1,000-year rain events in the US

La Niña causes an opposite effect, with stronger than average trade winds pushing more warm water toward Asia. This makes for a wetter west coast of the U.S., cooler temperatures in the north, warmer weather in the south and sometimes a more severe hurricane season. Both weather systems typically last nine months to a year, and occur every two to seven years.

However, weather systems don’t play by any rules. For example, Earth is currently experiencing a rare triple La Niña. And we’re in for more surprises, according to the study published this week in Nature Communications. Researchers analyzed 70 years’ worth of data on Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures, projecting how climate change will interact with the El Niño/La Niña Southern Oscillation.

Scientists have long puzzled over the link between climate change and these weather patterns. As the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs website puts it, “El Niño events are not caused by climate change – they are a natural reoccurring phenomenon that have been occurring for thousands of years. Some scientists believe they may be becoming more intense and/or more frequent as a result of climate change, although exactly how El Niño interacts with climate change is not 100 percent clear.”

According to this new study, the rising sea surface temperature caused by global warming will trigger much stronger El Niños and La Niñas.

Via NOAA, Popular Science

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