Twice as many of nature's troublesome children, the El Niños, could arrive to cause havoc in the coming century.
Intense El Niño periods could double in frequency as the Earth's average temperature continues to rise, warned an international team of atmospheric scientists and oceanographers. The researchers forecast higher warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean near the equator, relative to surrounding waters, based on 20 computerized models of the planet.
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The difference in temperatures could help spark an extreme El Niño and unleash flooding rains over the west coast of the Americas while parching Australia.
"We currently experience an unusually strong El Niño event every 20 years," said co-author, Agus Santoso of the University of New South Wales, in a press release. "Our research shows this will double to one event every 10 years."
El Niño and La Niña together, make up the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). A La Nina event involves abnormally cool water in the equatorial Pacific, while El Niño occurs when the water is warmer than average.