Sunday, July 6, 2014

6 Terrifying Effects of El Niño

The Global Post reports:
The US government’s Climate Prediction Center now puts the chances of El Niño, which occurs naturally once or twice a decade, at up to 80 percent this year.
GlobalPost walks you through the impacts.
Drought and hunger
The earliest effects of El Niño are usually felt in the eastern Pacific, with a weakened monsoon and heat waves.
That’s exactly what has already started to happen, with the rainy season starting late in India and precipitation levels 48 percent below normal. Food prices there are already spiking as a result.
With India home to the largest concentration of poor people in the world — 240 million in rural areas and 72 million in urban areas — it hardly takes an economist to know that that spells trouble.
In Australia, El Niño is likely to deepen the drought...
“Our farming and urban water systems need to be resilient to drought, and our health and emergency systems need to be ready for increased risks of heat waves and bushfires,” warns Michael Raupach of Australian National University...
On the opposite side of the Pacific, in the Americas, El Niño will bring not drought but extra rainfall.
In many places, such as coastal areas of Peru and Ecuador, that will likely spell flooding. In others, such as parched California and central Chile, it will bring relief, but not enough to fully replenish empty reservoirs, experts say.
Although some countries, notably Colombia, appear to have drawn the right lessons from the huge 1997-98 El Niño that caused billions of dollars in damage, other nations have not sufficiently prepared.
Growing populations, poverty, degraded land, unprotected water sources, and inappropriate infrastructure make the perfect cocktail of vulnerability.
“We know El Niño comes every few years. It is not a surprise, but planning for it is still unfinished business in much of Latin America,” says Rodney Martinez of Ecuador’s International El Niño Research Center (CIIFN).
Paradoxically, El Niño would reduce the risk of hurricanes that slam Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean from May to November. “But we are talking about probabilities not certainties,” Martinez stresses. “We can’t rule out that there will still be powerful storms.”
Falling food production
Global food production will also be hit. Corn, rice and wheat harvests are all expected to shrink thanks to lower net rainfall around the planet.
According to one study, 6 percent of wheat-farming areas, including parts of Russia and Argentina, will actually benefit from extra precipitation. But that will be more than canceled out with harvests hurt by less rain in 22 percent of wheat-growing lands, including Australia, Mexico and parts of the United States and China.
Even the supply of fish meal, used to feed livestock, is likely to plunge. Peru and Chile, which together produce roughly half the world’s fish meal, will see the huge anchovy shoals that they plunder shrink.
Indeed, it was Peruvian fishermen who gave El Niño, Spanish for “the boy,” its name, as the phenomenon typically hits South American waters in December, when Jesus Christ was born.
The fish will flee the warmer waters, heading deeper and farther south. They will also disperse, making it much harder for trawlers to suck them up from the oceans.
That means Peru’s 2014 annual anchovy catch is likely to fall from 6 million to 4 million tons, says Luis Icochea, of Lima’s National Agrarian University.
The Peruvian fishing industry will thus see its fishmeal revenue fall by around $200 million this year if the weather front arrives. “It would be worse if it weren’t for rising prices compensating for lower production,” says Icochea.
The one silver lining when it comes to El Niño’s effect on global food supply is that soybean harvests may increase. That’s thanks to increased rainfall in the US, Argentina and Brazil, three of the quartet of nations that dominate global supply.

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