ENSO IMPACTS ON WATER RESOURCES IN THE PACIFIC

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SOUTH PACIFIC APPLIED GEOSCIENCE COMMISSION (SOPAC) Suva, Fiji Islands

Press Release October 20, 1999

SUMMARY

The following is a Press Release from the ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation) Regional Workshop currently in progress in Nadi.

CONTENTS

The Regional workshop on ENSO impacts, which commenced yesterday (Tuesday, October 19), heard a keynote address from Dr. Michael Glantz, Senior Scientist with the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado USA. The workshop will continue until the end of the week and will include a training exercise involving meteorologists, water managers and disaster managers from 18 countries within the Pacific.

In his keynote address Dr. Glantz provided a global perspective of the El Niño phenomenon. He noted that the 1997-98 El Niño was the event that made El Niño a household word. Most people and especially governments and their disaster agencies have become aware of El Niño and its impacts on regional and local weather around the globe, but especially in the tropical Pacific. Today there is an excellent system for monitoring day-by-day changes in the sea surface temperatures across the Pacific. Normally, the warm surface water is in the western part of the Pacific and is responsible for favorable rainfall for agriculture and water resource needs. Every so often (say, three to seven years) that pool of warm water shifts toward the central Pacific and the rain-bearing cloud systems moves with that warm surface water. As a result the dry parts of the eastern Pacific become wet and the wet tropical areas in Oceania and the Australasian region become dry. Strong El Niños create severe drought conditions.

El Niño runs for about 12 months before returning to average (e.g., normal) conditions. If the sea surface temperatures continue to become colder than average a La Niña develops. That can bring heavy rains to countries in the central and western Pacific and droughts to countries along the west coast of South America.

The Pacific countries are not the only ones either interesting in or affected by El Niño. Southern Africa is usually plagued by drought, as is Ethiopia. Indonesia is plagued with fires in addition to drought; northern Brazil, Central America and Venezuela among others are affected by severe drought conditions.

The insurance companies have become very interested in El Niño and La Niña, as they have been concerned about the apparent increase in the intensity and frequency of El Niño events and their impacts. Energy, agriculture, fisheries and health sectors have also become aware of the value of knowing more about these phenomena and the forecasting of them. A judicious use of information about La Niña and La Niña can provide adequate lead-time for governments as well as individuals and the private sector to prepare for the known impacts that one can reliably expects from these extreme events.

For additional information, please contact: Dr. Russell Howorth at the Tanoa Hotel in Nadi TEL: (679) 725702 E-mail: russell@sopac.org.fj 

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