The frequency of extreme forms of a climate cycle that can cause devastating droughts and flood events from Indonesia to India to Kenya, may triple in the coming decades, according to a new study published Wednesday. The study, published in the journal Nature, ties manmade global warming to shifts in the behavior of a naturally-occurring climate cycle, known as the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD).
Like the Pacific Ocean, which gives rise to El Niño and La Niña events, the Indian Ocean has its own inherent instability, with constant fluctuations between trade winds and sea surface temperatures across the ocean basin. These fluctuations, like oceanic and atmospheric mood swings, can interact in reinforcing feedback cycles, leading to positive or negative Dipole events that lead to huge changes in where it rains and how frequently and heavily it does so.
In India, under El Niño conditions, it’s likely that weaker monsoon rains will cause problems for the country’s food supply, while Australia will probably see soaring temperatures and droughts. It’s not all disastrous, though: The western half of the United States could see the rain that is so desperately needs.
This El Niño is being predicted by the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts, which The Guardian says is considered one of the most reliable prediction centers. Principle scientist Tim Stockdale says it’s “very much odds-on for an event” because of the high level of warm water in the Pacific, but “what is very much unknowable at this stage is whether this year’s El Niño will be a small event, a moderate event — that’s most likely — or a really major event.”
The last major El Niño hit in 1997 and 1998, and about 23,000 people were killed worldwide due to droughts, cyclones, floods, and wildfires. Read more about the impact of an El Niño, especially on countries like India and Australia, at The Guardian.